Morning After Party

October 10, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Uncategorized

Title: Morning After Party
Location: Almost Heaven
Link out: Click here
Description: All good things must come to an end. Meet me in St. Louis.
Start Time: 04:00
Date: 2009-10-10
End Time: 05:20

The University of Montevallo

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Alabama

The University of Montevallo is located just south of Birmingham. The university is the realization of the dream of educator and social activist Julia Tutwiler, who envisioned an institution where young women could acquire skills that would enable them to become self-sufficient. As a result of the urging of Tutwiler and citizens of Montevallo, Senator Solomon Bloch introduced a bill establishing the school in the small town of Montevallo. Alabama’s Girls Industrial School opened its doors in October 1896. The Industrial School was housed in a number of existing structures. The largely experimental school trained young women to become teachers, musicians, artists, milliners. Bookkeepers, and telegraphers. By 1899, four hundred students were enrolled at Alabama’s Girls’ Industrial School. In the early 1900s, the school adopted purple and gold as its school colors. In 1907, the new president of the university, Thomas Palmer upgraded the school’s existing teacher training program, mostly because the demand for industrial training was declining. Under Palmer’s guidance, the school became one of the first institutions in the state to promote teacher education in music, art, commercial subjects, and physical education. In 1911, the school changed its name to Alabama’ Girls’ Technical Institute; the phrase “College for Women” was added to the schools name in 1919. In 1923, the school became a degree-granting institution after changing its name to Alabama College State College for Women. In the 1950s, faculty, alumnae, and the board of trustees gradually accepted the fact that in order for the school to grow, it would have to lose its designation as a “girls’” school. On January 15, 1957, the state legislature changed the name of the school to “Alabama State College,” thereby transforming it into a co-educational institution. By the end of the decade, intercollegiate baseball, basketball, cross-country track, and tennis teams were organized. In 1963, over forty percent of the student body was men. When Alabama College became the University of Montevallo on September 1, 1963, it included four colleges: Arts and Sciences, Fine Arts, Business, and Education. In 1995, The University of Montevallo became one of twenty-five institutions to be offered membership in the prestigious Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. Today, the university has the distinction of being ranked by the U.S. News & World Report as being ranked as a Tier One master’s-level institution. Montevallo is also reputed to be the most haunted universities in the entire state.

The oldest building on the campus of the University of Montevallo was originally a private residence. In the early 1800s, the site on which the University is now located was occupied by a tribe of Indians and a wealthy merchant named Edmund King. Born in Virginia in 1832, he married Nancy Ragan in 1812 in Griffin, Georgia. In 1815, King, accompanied by two servants, traveled to Mobile. They then rode on horseback from Dallas Country northward to a community known as Wilson’s Hill. He was so impressed with the place that he and his servants built a log cabin on a picturesque site. In 1817, King moved his wife Nancy and their children to the community that would come to be known as Montevalo. Their guide was William Weatherford, the Indian warrior known as Red Eagle. In 1823, King set about building a house that reflected his increasing prosperity. He replaced the hewn-log structure where he and his family had lived for six years with a handsome brick building, built in the Federal style. Servants made the bricks of clay from Shoals Creek. Visitors traveled from miles around to gaze at the windows, which had genuine glass panes. Before long, Mansion House, reputed to be one of the finest homes in the entire state, became the social center of Montevallo and the surrounding area.

Edmund King eventually opened a successful mercantile store in Montevallo. However, King’s fortune did not insulate him from tragedy. In 1842, his wife Nancy died in 1842 at the age of forty-nine. His second wife, Susan Ward King, whom King married in 1848, died in 1850. Both of King’s wives are buried in the little cemetery next to the King House, not far from the grave of his son Lyttleton, who was accidentally killed by one of his brothers while deer hunting. It is said that King spent hours walking around the graves, sometimes forgetting to eat. His last years were marked by infirmity and recurring illness. King died on June 28, 1863, at the age of eighty-two. Some say he was strolling through his orchard in the back of his house when an overhanging limb fell on his head and killed him. Others believe that he died in a fall from a peach tree he was trying to climb.

However, according to local legends, the death of Edmund King was not the end of his story. For years, people reported seeing his ghost wander around with a lantern and a shovel, reportedly looking for the gold that he had buried under a peach tree. Sometimes, his spirit takes the form of a ball of light that has been seen darting around the area between the graveyard and the orchard. Dr. Frank McCoy told of his own encounter with the spectral figure: “It was my first year here—1976. I was hired by President Kermit Johnson, who had already retired from being a principal and superintendent in Birmingham. He seemed to be really old to me back then. Students talked about seeing the house’s ghost, and we decided to stake out the place. My office was in Brock Hall right across the street. We decided to wait after nightfall to see if we could catch sight of him. Sure enough, we looked up one night, and we saw this shadowy figure walking around the outside of the house, bending over, [like he was looking for something buried in the ground]. Everywhere this figure went, it suddenly got very dark. One part of the yard went dark, and then another, and then another. I figured out that it was the president, Kermit Johnson, who was going around turning off the outside lights to keep the utility costs down. The lights were on the ground, and he had to bend over.”

The children and grandchildren of Edmund King also spoke of strange activity inside the King House. For years, King’s relatives have experienced cold spots in King’s bedroom. People sitting in the downstairs parlor reported hearing the creaking of the bed and footsteps, as if someone had just climbed out of bed and walked across the floor. They immediately thought of Edmund King, who was in the habit of leaving his bed and pacing the floor of his bedroom when he was old. As soon as someone opened the door, the noises stopped. King’s descendants also claimed to have seen weird lights in the dark corners of the upstairs room, usually on stormy nights. They also heard the clinking sounds of coins. Dr. Frank McCoy said that students and faculty reported seeing his ghost in one of the upstairs windows, counting his money. “At times, he will lose money, or he can’t figure out why his books won’t balance,” McCoy said, “and he starts roaming the inside of the house.

The most bizarre occurrence inside the King House was reported by Kathryn Tucker Windham in her book Jeffrey’s Latest 13: More Alabama Ghosts. Windham reports that years after King’s death, a wedding feast was held inside the mansion. A young girl, possibly a brides’ maid, was trying to carve a roast pig when a high-pitched squeal came from the animal. Panic-stricken, guests overturned chairs and bumped into the banquet table as they dashed out the front door. While they were regaining their composure on the front lawn, one of the groomsmen volunteered to carve the pig. He had just stuck a large fork into the pig when what guests later described as a “huge white thing” floated from underneath the table, hovered over the bride and groom, and disappeared. Needless to say, no one felt like eating after the spirit vanished. Later on in the evening, while the bride and groom and their guests were dancing, a white-robed figure leapt through the parlor door, floated over the heads of the guests, and flew out an open window into the night. To this day, no one knows who—or what—the uninvited wedding guest was.

Even today, students talk of the ghosts inside the King House. One night, several members of the baseball team claim to have broken into the old house when they heard a spectral voice order them to “Get out!” Students passing by the house during the day have seen the transparent figure of an elderly man dressed in 19th century period clothing waving at them from a second story window. At night, students have seen the light of a lantern move from room to room on the second floor. People standing inside the kitchen of the King House have reported getting “bad vibes.” One evening, a young man and woman were walking around the outside of the King House, staring into the windows. The young man was looking into one of the kitchen windows when suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Thinking that his friend was trying to get his attention, he turned around to find out what she wanted. To his surprise, she was standing across the brick patio, staring into an upstairs window.

One of the buildings that became the nucleus of Alabama Girls’ Industrial is now known as Reynolds Hall. During the Civil War, the building was used as a Confederate Hospital. Dr. Frank McCoy, a retired professor in Montevallo’s Fine Arts Department, believes that Reynolds Hall is haunted by the ghost of Captain Henry Clay Reynolds, whose duty it was to protect the sick and injured men in the hospital: “Captain Reynolds learned that General Sherman’s troops were about to attack the Briarfield Iron Works, which was a very valuable smelting facility for the Confederates, so he decided to go eight miles from Briarfield and join the troops. Unfortunately, he left the wounded soldiers in Reynolds unguarded, and when the Union Army came through, they massacred the wounded. Reynolds came back from Briarfield and was anguished over the fact that he had not died on the battlefield. He regretted not staying in Montevallo to protect the wounded men. Captain Reynolds said he’d never go from Reynolds Hall again, so he never left.” Legend has it that the bodies of the murdered patients were buried in the King cemetery. Some people believe that Reynolds spirit is guilt-ridden over his actions during his tenure as the first president of the school. Reynolds had been one of the primary supporters of Montevallo as the site of the proposed girls’ industrial school. Supposedly, Reynolds ghost is racked with guilt because he was forcibly removed as president. His detractors claimed that he had invested the students’ tuition money to fatten his own bank account.

For generations, students, faculty, and staff have had paranormal experiences in Reynolds Hall. Some of the disturbances in the building seem to be poltergeist activity. Janitors claim that doors and windows open and close by themselves. People walking through the building at night have passed through what seem to be cold spots. Occasionally, people have felt a gust of wind blowing across the stage when the doors are closed. Most people credit these phenomena to the Henry Clay Reynolds, whose blue apparition has been seen and heard walking around Reynolds Hall. Some students actually claim that Reynolds’ specter has followed them around the campus late at night. The best known ghostly activity in Reynolds Hall involves the portrait of the disgraced president. Dr. Frank McCoy said, “I have been over to Reynolds Hall on lights when maintenance people will sear that Reynolds’ portrait has been moved. They will take it down and move it back to its proper place. No one has ever been caught moving it, but it does in fact move around the building.”

The ghostly presence at Palmer Hall is the spirit of Dr. Walter H. Trumbauer, known affectionately by the student body as “Trummy.” Dr. Trumbauer founded the Drama Festival in 1928. He was also the driving force behind College Night, which began on March 3, 1923. “College night has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institute as having the longest-running continuous student-produced and directed student show in the country,” Dr. McCoy said. “It is a really intense rivalry. You declare that you are gold or purple, the school colors. Then you go through various athletic competitions, followed by debates. Then it culminates in a series of nights, beginning on Wednesday and ending on Saturday. Each group writes, produces, choreographs, and acts in a production it has written. Then on Saturday, a winner is declared. Probably no more than ten days a year do students have an interest in Palmer Hall, but during that time, the rivalry and intense emotions are raucous on College Night.” Dr. Trumbauer had a vested interest in Palmer Hall and its 1100-foot auditorium because he helped design it. Apparently, though, his spirit is miffed because Dr. Trumbauer’s name was omitted from the plaque on the outside of the building. Dr. McCoy says that Trummy’s restless spirit is most active during the performance of plays: “Trummy will wander backstage and appear and disappear as students are getting ready, causing the performers to become even more jittery than they were before walking on stage.” Students can tell which play meets with Trummy’s approval because he causes the battens to swing over the performance of his choice during dress rehearsal. Students say that Dr. McCoy suspects, however, that there might be a rational explanation for the manifestations inside Palmer Hall. “Most of these students have never appeared on stage before and certainly not in front of a thousand people with bands playing and cheerleaders and that sort of thing. So the fact that they would see an apparition in the labyrinth below the stage is understandable.”

Another haunted building on Montevallo’s campus is Hanson Hall Women’s Residence. The story goes that the spirit of a strict housemother is still watching over the young women in the dormitory. She usually takes the form of an unseen presence who looks over the shoulders of students as they study late into the night. Her ghost has also been seen walking down the halls and peering into students’ rooms to make sure that everything is as it should be. The vigilant housemother has also been credited with moving objects from their original location. One student said that she left her coffee mug on her desk, only to find it gone a few minutes. The mug reappeared in the same location a few weeks later.

The University of Montevallo’s most famous ghost story takes place in at the oldest residence hall, Old Main. The four-story west wing of Old Main opened its doors in 1897. Students have given the old dormitory the nickname “Buzzard Hall, ” probably because the tangle of vines encircling the entrance way are said to resemble buzzards’ nests. Old Main’s most famous resident is Condie Cunningham, who lived on the fourth floor. On February 4th, 1908, she and her friends were heating up hot chocolate on burner when someone knocked over a bottle of alcohol, which splashed on Condie’s nightgown and ignited it and her hair. Screaming, the terrified girl ran out of her room and down the hallway. Finally, she collapsed in a smoldering heap at the foot of the stairs. Condie was taken to a local hospital, where she died several days later. Students said that they could still smell the stench of burned flesh on the fourth floor several days later. According to Dr. Frank McCoy, stories of Condie’s ghost began circulating around Old Main shortly after her death: “Even today, you can talk to students who swear that Condie came into their room. She’s been known to go into the shower areas and scream her head off. Some students have felt a breeze when the windows were closed. They have seen the carpet on the threshold of her room ripple as if someone walked into the room. Or they tell the story of a door opening, and there won’t be anyone there. The girls say that when she roams the hall, she doesn’t do it quietly. She runs and screams through the hall as if she is still on fire. One student told me that Condie is coming back because she is trying to live vicariously through the young students in the hall.” Students have also a voice crying “Help me!” and disembodied footsteps running down the hall. One young woman claimed to have seen the apparition of a woman in a 19th century dress standing by her bed, criticizing her for having a boy in her room after house. The ghost of Condie Cunningham is so famous that Old Main has been featured on television programs and radio shows like “Rick and Bubba.”

In 2002, this writer, accompanied by Dr. Frank McCoy and an R.A., visited Old Main. At the time of my visit, her room was unoccupied. Supposedly, no one could stay there very long because of the spectral sounds in the room. Dr. McCoy said that the door to her room was not the original door: “Students began to the image of a woman screaming in the wood grain panel of the door to her room. Her hair was on fire, and the flames were shooting up. There were maintenance people who claim that they saw the image too. It wasn’t just the students who saw her. A few years ago, somebody decided to put the door in storage to put the school at ease.” The R.A. took Dr. McCoy and me to the basement, where the door is stored. I can understand how someone with a healthy imagination who is familiar with Condie Cunningham’s tragic tale could make out the image of a screaming woman in the intricate pattern of streaks and swirls on the wood. A variant of the story has it that image on the door is the face of a young woman who hanged herself in Condie’s room. She has also been credited with opening and closing the doors to rooms on the fourth floor, including the doors to the bathroom stalls.

Ghost stories are still told in the dormitories at the University of Montevallo, but not as much as they were in the past. Dr. Frank McCoy attributes this erosion of the transference of campus lore to the changing face of the university: “Back in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, there were much closer connections between students and faculty because they didn’t know that we didn’t know everything, so what developed was the faculty perpetuated many of the ghost stories on the campus. They would have the students at their homes. What are you going to talk to an eighteen-year-old about over dinner? You are not going to talk about math or science or art history. You’re going to talk about campus life, and there are few things more interesting than ghosts, so it became almost traditional that faculty would tell ghost stories. This is not done so much because there are fewer students living on campus. Only about one third of the student body lives on campus now, so many of these student/faculty relationships have not continued.” One can only hope that the current interest in the paranormal, spawned in large part by television, will inspire students to investigate the truth behind the stories that have made the University of Montevallo very well-known to ghost hunters across the United States.

The Spirits of Sloss Furnaces

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Alabama

The Sloss Furnaces owe their existence to the rich mineral resources of Jones Valley and the vision of James Withers Sloss. Born in limestone County in 1820, Sloss’ business acumen first surfaced in 1835, when he began working as an accountant for a butcher. In 1842, he opened what was to become the first of a chain of mercantile stores in Athens, Alabama. By 1862, Sloss had invested heavily in railroads. After the Civil war, he took the first step toward creating the transportation network required to tap the region’s mineral wealth. He combined a number of short railroad lines to form a leg of the Louisville and Nashville rail line. Once the tracks had been extended south to Birmingham, the large scale development of the region’s coal and iron deposits became more than just a pipe dream. In 1873, Sloss was instrumental in the formation of the Cooperative Experimental Coke and Iron Company, which used coke instead of charcoal to produce iron in the old Red Mountain Oxmoor Furnace. In 1880, Pratt helped form the Pratt Coal and Iron Company and began construction of the city’s first blast furnace on fifty acres on the northern edge of Birmingham (852). The state-of-the art furnace was designed and built by Harry Hargreaves, who had studied under Thomas Whitewell, the inventor of the stoves that supplied the hot air blast for the furnaces. The first blast furnace was blown in 1882, the second in 1884 (883). The furnaces were sixty feet high and eighteen feet in diameter. In its first year of operation, the newly-christened Sloss Furnace Company produced 24,000 tons of pig iron. The Louisville Exposition recognized the high quality of the foundry’s iron by awarding it a bronze medal.

Following his retirement in 1886, Sloss sold his company to John W. Johnston and Forney Johnson. With the backing of Wall Street financier J.C. Maben, the two investors reorganized the foundry as the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company in 1899. The firm’s expansion plans included the construction of two more furnaces and three hundred ovens on the grounds of the newly-acquired Coalburg Coal and Coke Company (853). After Maben became president of the firm, he installed new blowers in 1902 and new boilers in 1906. Between 1927 and 1931, the old furnaces were completely rebuilt. By 1939, the Sloss-Sheffied Steel and Iron Company had become one of the chief southern suppliers of pig iron for pipe manufacture (850). A dehumidification plant was constructed during World War II to reduce the company’s dependence on coke. The United States Pipe and Foundry Company purchased the foundry in 1952, but business was hampered by the introduction of plastic pipe and ductile iron, as well as the firm’s increasing dependence on more expensive foreign ore. The Jim Walter Corporation acquired the company in 1969 but donated it to the Alabama State Fair Authority in 1971 with the intent of converting it into a museum. In 1977, Birmingham voters approved of a $3.3 million bond sale to stabilize two-third of the historic structures and to fund construction of a visitors’ center. Today, Sloss Furnaces is the only 20th century blast furnace preserved as a historic site. In recent years, the 19th century industrial complex has achieved as one of the most haunted historic places in the entire country.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Sloss Furnaces is the archives, which preserve interviews with former employees, many of whom were black. Before James Sloss sold the furnaces, he employed as many as 565 African American males. In 1900, blacks comprised 65 percent of the Birmingham iron and steel work force in 1900 and 75 percent in 1910. Subsequent owners of the City Furnaces depended so heavily on the cheap labor provided by African Americans that they saw no need to install labor-saving equipment until the 1920s, when thousands of black Alabamians migrated north in search of a better life and higher-paying jobs (855). The blacks who continued to work at the Sloss Furnances until they closed for good in1971 punched separate time clocks, bathed in separate bath houses, and attended separate company picnics. Job categories were segregated as well. Most of the supervisors, technicians and skilled workers were white; blacks constituted the entire “common labor” workforce.

Not surprisingly, working in the Sloss Furnaces was perilous. For example, some work teams were required to load iron ore into the vertical hoists. Once the ore had been lifted to the top of the stacks, workers called “fillers” dumped the loads into the flaming furnaces. Because they had to maintain a fast pace, fillers who did not pay enough attention lost their footing and fell into the molten iron. Those fillers fortunate enough not to be incinerated ran the risk of dying from inhaling the noxious fumes emitted from the stacks (Lewis 86-87).

The casting sheds presented their own special hazards. The six-to-eight-man work teams who used hammers, hand drills, and crowbars to remove the clay plugs from the base of the furnaces were exposed to heat so intense that workers were rotated every few minutes. After the plug was finally chipped away, the men had to leap out of the way to prevent being burned by the stream of molten ore that gusted from the opening in the furnace. The men who guided the molten iron into the central trench and the smaller channels—or sows—also risked their lives on a daily basis. Laborers had to be vigilant for small amounts of moisture that would cause the molten iron to explode. To make maters worse, these workers were pressured to fill the sows and the pig iron molds very quickly, increasing the possibility of accidents. The workers who separated the simmering pigs from the sows almost always suffered from burns and blisters on their feet, despite the fact that they wore shoes with heavy wooden soles. Loading the cooled pigs into the mule-drawn tramcars was back-breaking work that eventually wore down even the strongest men after only a few years (Lewis 87).

The exact number of people seriously injured or killed is unknown. However, history does record the horrible deaths of a few of these individuals. In late November 1882, two black laborers, Aleck King and Bob Mayfield, were lowered on a platform inside the No. 1 furnace, where they were supposed to remove the deposits of coke and ore clinging to the inner walls. Using picks, the men were chipping way when suddenly, a huge mass of congealed ore dislodged from the walls and plunged into the furnace, sending up clouds of gas and smoke. Choking uncontrollably from the toxic fumes, the men toppled from the platform and fell into the furnace.

A few days later, another laborer met his death in the fiery furnace. Samuel Cunningham was a transient worker who had just arrived from Kentucky. Like many mill employees, the strain of performing extremely dangerous tasks under deplorable conditions drove into a state of depression. One day, he walked over to Alice No. 1, climbed the hoist to the top of the stack, and jumped into the roaring furnace as his co-workers looked on in horror (83).

The best-known work related death also produced the iron industry’s most famous ghost story. Theophilus Calvin Jowers was a white supervisor who left his father’s plantation near Widowee after the Civil War to seek his fortune in the burgeoning iron industry in Jones Valley. In 1870, he married Sarah Latham in Irondale, where he found employment at W.S.McElwain’s Cahaba Iron Works. Eager to learn every face of iron making, Theophilus worked right alongside the black workers in the plant, converting hard wood into charcoal and preparing the sand molds that shaped the pigs. In 1873, Theophilus and Sarah left Irondale and moved to Oxmoor. Theophilus soon found work as assistant foundryman at the Eureka Mining and Transportation company of the Oxmoor Furnaces. He was undoubtedly present when coke—a derivative of coal—was successfully used to make pig iron at Oxmoor on February 18, 1876.

In the spring of 1887, Theophilus was offered the job of assistant foundryman at the Alice Furnace No. 1 in Birmingham. The offer was too good to refuse because it enabled Theophilus, Sarah, and their five children a chance to leave the stifling atmosphere of Oxmoor and move to Birmingham, which had become a bustling city. At the time, Alice No. One had set a record in the South for producing 150 pigs of iron in a single day. Theophilus realized when he took the job that he would be responsible for maintaining that same high level of productivity.

Theophilus had not worked at Alice No. One for very long before Sarah’s worst fears came true. On September 10, 1887, Theophilus was directing a work team that had assumed the task of replacing the old bell with a new one. Theophilus had planned to hoist up the old bell and slowly lower it into the furnace to be melted down. He was holding the rope which was to release the bell when all at once, he tripped, releasing his hold on the rope. The enormous bell plunged into the molten iron, and Theophilus fell on top of it. Within seconds, the molten ore covered his body, reducing it to ashes almost instantaneously. His co-workers used a piece of sheet iron attached to a piece of gas pipe to retrieve Jowers’ remains, which consisted of only his head, bowels, two hip bones, and a few ashes (Windham 18).

Sarah and her children were devastated by their father’s agonizing death, but they were saved from financial ruin because iron workers took care of their own. Her late husband’s co-workers pooled together their time and money to build a new house for Sarah and her children. The mill workers also bought the lunches that Sarah sold from her house. Theophilus’ reputation as a hard worker and loyal friend served his family in good stead for many years after his death. Sarah soon learned that Theophilus’ influence persisted in other ways as well. Not long after Theophilus died, workers began reporting feeling surprisingly cold when they were on the bridge at Little Alice. Seconds later, they sensed that someone was standing nearby, watching them. When they turned to look, no one was there. Not long thereafter, workers preparing to charge the furnace claimed to have seen a figure walking around, almost as if he was supervising. Over the years, stories continued to be told of a male apparition who strode through the flying sparks and searing heat with impunity.

Over the next few decades, workers took seriously Theophilus’ vow to his wife that “As long as there’s a furnace standing in this country, I’ll be there!” In 1905, after Alice No. One was dismantled, the ghost of Theophilus Jowers moved to Alice No. Two. For the next two decades, the spectral shape of the former assistant foundryman appeared in parts of the plant where no living human being could have survived the heat and flames. In 1927 when Alice No.Two was abandoned, the ghost took up residence in the Sloss furnaces on First Avenue. In her book The Ghost in the Sloss Furnaces, author Kathryn Tucker Windham tells of John Jowers’ first encounter with his father’s spirit.

He had just purchased a new 1927 Model T Ford, and he decided to take his son, Leonard, on a drive down First Avenue so that he could see the iron mill where his grandfather worked. After the Model T crested the top of the viaduct when John stopped the engine, John took Leonard’s hand and told him that they were going to take a close look at the furnaces. They were leaning over the metal railing of the viaduct, looking at the furnaces, when John saw a man walking through the scorching flames. He immediately directed his son’s attention to the spot where his father’s ghost appeared, but the ghost was gone. John saw his father’s ghost several other nights while leaning against the railing of the viaduct. For Theophilus Calvin Jowers, it seems, working at the iron mill was much more than a life-time calling.

A much lesser-known spirit also lives on the folklore of the Sloss Furnaces. In the early 1900s, a young woman who had become pregnant out of wedlock walked unnoticed through the gates of the Sloss Furnaces. While the men were pouring the iron into the sows, she climbed up Alice No. 1 and jumped into the furnace. Ron Bates, a tour guide, said that the girl’s spirit returned to Sloss Furnaces in a very unconventional form: “One day, city officials and plant managers were having some kind of official ceremony at Sloss Furnaces when all at one, a white deer ran through the crowd and disappeared. Some people believed that it was the reincarnation of the pregnant girl who killed herself in the furnace.” Ron went on to say that the deer still appears whenever dignitaries visit the furnaces on special occasions.

A much more apocryphal story concerns a sadistic foreman named James “Slag” Wormwood, who supervised the graveyard shift in the early 1900s. Because he forced the 150 workers on his shift to take dangerous risks, forty-seven men died while he worked there. An untold number of workers suffered debilitating injuries that forced them to quit their jobs. In 1906, Wormwood was walking on top of the Big Alice furnace when he lost his footing and fell into the molten ore. Rumors quickly spread that it was not the fumes from the rising methane gases that caused him to become disoriented and plummet into the furnace but the hands of one of his tormented workers who pushed him to his death. Over the next several decades, a number of sightings of Wormwood’s ghost were reported. In 1926, a watchman was pushed from behind and told to “get back to work.” In 1947, three workmen who were found unconscious in a small boiler room also claimed that a badly burned man ordered them to return to work. In 1971, another watchman said that he was walking up the stairs when a demon-like figure pushed him from behind. The entity then began beating the man as he was lying on the stairs. To this day, tourists occasionally report feeling a pair on unseen hands on their backs, especially on the catwalk.

Despite Sloss Furnaces’ reputation as being one of the most haunted places in the United States, no formal investigations were conducted until 2005, when Ghost Chasers, International, from Bardstown, Kentucky, became the first group to visit the mill.. The truth behind the ghost stories became immediately apparent. “When we first walked into the factory,” Chuck said, Patti looked up at the water tower and saw a man walking on the catwalk. Back in the museum, Patti described the apparition to one of the tour guides, who told her that the ghost of a man on the water tower is frequently sighted at the mill.

More paranormal activity was detected down in a man-made waterway that served as a cooling system. The waterway is between two and three feet wide and approximately eight inches deep. Chuck said, “When we were down there, we could hear whispering behind us. It was very clear.” Unfortunately, the group was unable to record the sounds because of the noise made by the rushing water.

Ghost Chasers, International, also picked up some startling EVP’s that night. One of these was the voice of a little girl, who said, “Hi, Daddy. Here’s your lunch.” “Patti was really confused,” Chuck said, “because she wondered why she was picking up a child in an old factory. The group’s tour guide from the museum cleared up the mystery: “The workers had homes right on the property, and that’s where they were living. There were 500 workers on a shift, and the children and their mothers would bring their lunches to them during their lunch and dinner break.”

Chuck Starr, the husband of the director of Ghost Chasers International, Patti Starr, said that nationally-known psychic Chip Coffey accompanied the group. Chip had just completed Patti Starr’s ghost hunting course, and he was eager to apply what he had learned to a genuine investigation. Ironically, the newest investigator had the closest personal experience that night when the group entered the factory portion of the mill. Chip had just sat down when he began feeling the presence of a man who had been injured on the job many years before. “I don’t get the impression that he lost his life,” Chip said, “just a limb.” Chip had no sooner lost contact with the entity than one of the investigators noticed blood on his hands. “We checked him over pretty carefully,” Chuck said, “and there was no blood or abrasions anywhere on his skin.” Chip does not know when the blood first appeared on his hands because he was not paying attention. Fortunately, the group was able to capture the blood on Chip’s hands on video.

On September 14, 2007, the Oxford Paranormal Society conducted an investigation at Sloss Furnaces. The OPS was accompanied by a reporter and two photographers from the Birmingham News. The members placed four stationary infrared cameras to cover the catwalks and the entrances and exits. The team also carried around four hand-held infrared cameras as they walked through the structure. The team split off into three groups: one group remained at the monitoring station; one group sat still and recorded EVPs; and one group walked the grounds. The investigation ended at 3:00. The teams captured no visual images, but they did collect some interesting EVPs. One group recorded a voice near the plaque of Theophilus Jowers. Three of the questions asked by another group were answered by a loud banging sound.

Another paranormal research group—GH.O.U.L. from Alabama—investigated the Sloss Furnaces during the daytime in May 2008. Bob Giordano, the director of the group, said that the members were exploring the main tunnel when Bob asked the question, “Can you give us a sign of your presence?” About two minutes after Bob asked the question, someone—or something—threw a handful of pebbles as him. “They hit me in the back of the leg,” Bob said. “We were recording EVPs at the time, and when we listed to the tape we heard the pebbles being picked up and thrown at me, but we also heard two big rocks hit the wall. We hadn’t heard the sound of the big rocks until we listened to the recording.” Another team that was walking through the same tunnel was taking photographs at the end of the tunnel. “One of the members caught what seems to be the shadowy image of a little girl,” Bob said. “She’s holding her arm out like she’s carrying something, but you don’t see anything in her hand. It was definitely a full-bodied apparition.”

The members of G.H.O.U.L. heard some very unnerving sounds during the May investigation as well. “There were three investigators walking through the boiler room, and they heard a woman say something, but they couldn’t quite make out what it was. They were doing EVP work at the time, but they didn’t record anything. All three investigators insisted that they heard the same disembodied female voice at the same time.” One of Bob’s lead investigators was recording EVPs outside of the boiler room in the vicinity of the smokestacks when he and the other members of his team began hearing footsteps coming toward. After the footsteps stopped, the members asked the entity, “What is your name?” Suddenly, they heard the footsteps again. This time, they came even closer to the team before stopping altogether. However, the sound did not appear on the recorder. Several of the investigators from another team working inside the boiler room had just detected the scent of burned oil when they began hearing the machinery start up. Once again, though, the group did not record the sound. “That’s one thing we have noticed at Sloss Furnaces,” Bob said. “Sounds that we hear with our ears do not show up on the recorder.”

Bob’s wife had the most startling personal experience in the May investigation. He and another investigator were up on the catwalk in the boiler room while his wife was sitting down. Suddenly, she shouted up to the men that she was beginning to feel cold. At that moment, Bob took her photograph. When they examined the photograph, they were amazed to see the image of a dog. “It was standing on its hind legs, looking at my wife. You can clearly see its tail, too. She didn’t feel the dog, though, just the cold,” Bob said.

G.H.O.U.L. returned to the Sloss Furnaces in July 2008. Bob Giordano said that he and his members stayed in the old plant from 6:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. “One of our teams was in the boiler room taking pictures,” Bob said. “When we reviewed the pictures later on, we caught the image of a man on fire on two photographs. One picture shows a profile view of the man, and in the other, he is staring directly at the camera.” A team that was working around one of the towers took a another photograph of a black figure working at a panel. While the group was doing EVP work down in the waterway, one of the members of the group aimed his camera over Bob’s shoulder and took a photograph of the head and shoulders of a man hovering over the water. The group also captured a large number of orbs on film, but because of the high concentration of dust in many of the rooms, the photographs could not be submitted as evidence of the paranormal.

G.H.O.U.L.’s third investigation of Sloss Furnaces was conducted on January 8, 2009, from noon until 4:00 p.m. “We had two groups from Georgia investigating with us,” Bob said. “We got video of some shadows moving around the basement of the boiler room. It was strange because there was nobody else around. We were looking down the room in the back of the basement, and in the background, you can see the pipes and a shadow walking by. There was nobody down there.” One member who was walking through the boiler room began feeling dizzy. She also sensed the presence of another person. At this point, the investigator realized that she had to leave the boiler room as quickly as possible.

Four other members who were in the tunnel had an experience very similar to that of the investigator in the boiler room. “They got the feeling that they were being surrounded and watched,” Bob said. “And then all of a sudden, all four of them started getting a headache and dizzy, so all four of them got out of the tunnel. When they got out, they started feeling better. They said that definitely, something was down there with them.”

Investigators are not the only ones who encounter the ghosts of Sloss Furnaces these days. Workers and visitors often feel as if they are being watched by an invisible presence. People walking along the catwalk in the boiler during tours have reported a glowing, humanoid shape lurking around. Ron Bates says that the most haunted building is the Blowing Engine Building. Built in 1902, it is the oldest building still standing at Sloss Furnaces. Workers who had set objects down in one part of the building have found them moved to another room later on. Doors open and close by themselves in the Blowing Engine Building as well. Ron occasionally sees the shape of a person in the Blowing Engine Building out of the corner of his eye, but it always vanishes when he turns around for a better look. “Visitors see the shadowy figure of a man all the time,” Ron says, “but it could be one of our maintenance men.” When one considers all of the pain and suffering that was endured by workers at Sloss Furnaces for almost a century, the possibility that the old mill might be haunted is not really that far-fetched.


The Mystery of the Screaming Woman

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Uncategorized

On November 21, 2003, between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m., a psychologist named Dr. Virgil Davis was driving toward his home in Morehead, Kentucky. Riding with him were his two sons, aged 15 and 18. They were almost home when suddenly, they witnessed a bright, oval-shaped craft flying over a field near their home. Dr. Davis described the craft as moving erratically, like a hummingbird, quite a distance from the ground. After a few minutes, it moved down a hundred feet or so, stayed in that position a few minutes, and dropped a little farther and remained there for a while, like an elevator moving from floor to floor. Dr. Davis and his son watched the objects for three or four minutes. Then it darted to different parts of the sky. They stopped the car and got out to get a better look. After watching the craft for a few minutes, they concluded that it was a UFO, not a helicopter or the Aurora Borealis, as they had suspected at first.

Dr. Davis and his sons drove the rest of the way to their house. They raced up the stairs to the second floor, eager to catch another glimpse of the strange craft. Staring out of a bedroom window toward the northeast, they watched the UFO descend into the field. Gradually, the white light it was emitting changed to a reddish glow. All of the normal outdoor sounds ceased at that moment. An eerie silence settled on the scene outside. All at once, the neighbor’s a dog began barking frantically. Other animals joined in, howling and barking wildly. After a few seconds, the now red-colored object accelerated and shot off into the darkness. Dr. Davis and his son had been standing at the window, transfixed, for at least ten minutes.

Immediately after the UFO vanished into the night sky, Dr. Davis’ sons ran downstairs and charged through the front door. Almost immediately, the boys returned to the house claiming—between gasps for breath—that they had heard a woman in the field screaming, “Help me! Oh, my God! Help me!” Twenty minutes later, approximately twenty police officers and a rescue squad showed up at the field where Dr. Davis and his sons had seen the UFO land. One of the policemen told Dr. Davis that the others had heard the screaming as well. The fire department scanned the area with a thermal imaging camera, but no evidence of a human presence could be found. Because no one had submitted a missing person’s report, the police terminated the investigation.

Most of the authorities ascribed Dr. Davis’ sighting of the UFO to the Northern Lights, which several witnesses from the Rockfork area had seen a couple of days before. However, a few weeks later, a UFO researcher interviewed a woman who claimed that she and her daughter had also seen a UFO on the night of November 21. Her description of the behavior of the strange craft matched Dr. Davis’. In addition, a crop circle had appeared in a rye field at Flemingsburg, Kentucky, only forty-five miles sought of Morehead, in the spring of 2003. In the light of this additional evidence, is it logical to assume that witnesses heard a woman scream as she was being abducted by a UFO? If a woman actually was carried off by a flying saucer, then why were no reports of a missing female ever found?

Octavia Hatcher’s Rude Awakening

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Kentucky

By the 1890s, James Hatcher had become one of the richest men in Pikeville, Kentucky. His career as a businessman began at the age of eighteen when he opened a warehouse on the river. After building a steamer called the “Mountain Girl,” he branched out into the contracting and the timber businesses. He also dabbled in politics, becoming the Clerk of the Pike County Court and Railroad Commission for the district. In 1891, Hatcher married Ocatavia Smith, the daughter of one of the founders of Pikeville. The couple’s marital bliss was cut short by the death of their son, Jacob, only a few days after he was born. Grief-stricken, Octavia slipped into a coma and died shortly thereafter on May 2, probably from a broken heart. Most stories of family tragedy end at this point. In Octavia Hatcher’s case, however, her legend began shortly after burial.

Octavia Hatcher was buried soon after death without being embalmed. A few days after her body was interred, several residents of Pikeville succumbed to a strange, coma-inducing illness, similar to the ailment that had afflicted Octavia shortly before her demise. Apparently, the disease was spread by the bite of a fly. As soon as Hatcher and his family heard the news of the “sleeping sickness” that was spreading throughout the community, the terrible realization that they had buried Octavia alive took hold. When her coffin was exhumed, bystanders were shocked by what they found inside. Octavia’s lifeless eyes were bulging open, her face contorted in an expression of terror. The spectators could almost hear the desperate scream that issued forth from her open mouth in her final hour. The corpse’s broken, bloody fingernails and the scratch marks on the inside of the coffin lid made it painfully clear what had happened to Octavia: she had awakened from her coma inside her coffin.

James Hatcher never totally recovered from the horrible fate that befell Octavia. He was moved by his undying love for his wife to replace the comparatively modest grave marker with a stone statue of Octavia cradling an infant in her arms. Legend has it that his fear of being buried alive was so intense that just before James died in 1939, he had a special coffin made for himself that would enable him to escape if her were unfortunate enough to wake up underground.

According to authors Troy Taylor and Herma Shelton, the grisly tale of Octavia Hatcher has generated a number of ghost stories. For years, Teenagers who have visited the cemetery to party have reported hearing screams coming from the vicinity of her grave. It was said that Octavia’s spirit turned her completely around, essentially “turning her back” on the town that had allowed her to be buried prematurely. Eventually, residents of Pikeville learned that the strange behavior of Octavia’s statue was actually the work of mischievous college students. Some witnesses have spied her wispy form floating among the graves. Indeed, photographs taken by Herma Shelton in the daylight hours have captured what appears to be a misty shape hovering over Octavia’s grave.

In an effort to dispel the mystery surrounding the grave of Octavia Hatcher, members of her family have placed a pedestal on her grave containing factual information regarding her life and death. The sad fact is that Octavia Hatcher would probably be completely forgotten today had she not suffered such a horrible death.

The Cursed Tombstone of Carl Pruitt

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Kentucky

In his book Beyond the Grave, author Troy Taylor provides an account of one of Kentucky’s most bizarre legends. Late one afternoon after a hard day’s work, Carl Pruitt came home, expecting to find his wife in the kitchen cooking supper. He sensed that something was wrong when she did not answer his greeting from the kitchen, so he began to search for her. When Carl opened the door to the bedroom, he was shocked to find is wife in bed with another man. Blind with rage, Carl grabbed a steel chain and began to strangle his wife with it while her lover wisely darted through the bedroom and out the front door. Realizing what he had done after his wife stopped breathing, Carl committed suicide. According to local folklore, Carl’s wrath never abated, not even after death.

Because his wife’s family was unable to forgive Carl, he as buried in a different cemetery and a different town. A week after his burial, people noticed a circular discoloration on his tombstone. Over the next few weeks, a series of interlocking circles appeared on the tombstone. The more superstitious visitors to the cemetery pointed out the circle’s resemblance to the links of a chain. Soon, another row of circles intersected with the previous row, forming a cross. Even though there was talk about removjng the mysterious tombstone, it was left where it was.

The possibility that Carl Puritt’s tombstone was cursed became more accepted by the community following what appeared at first to be a freak accident. A month after the chain had stopped “growing,” several boys rode their bikes out to the cemetery to get a look at the “bewitched” tombstone. To impress his friends, one of them threw a rock at Carl Pruitt’s tombstone, breaking off a small chip. Satisfied that he had proven his manhood, he and the other boys mounted their bikes and rode toward home. Suddenly, the boy who had damaged the tombstone lost control of his bike and crashed into a tree. Somehow, the bike’s sprocket chain came loose and wrapped around the boy’s neck, strangling him.

A few weeks after the accident, the dead boy’s mother strode into the cemetery with an ax. Unable to pin the blame for her son’s death on a living human being, she decided to take vengeance on Carl Pruitt’s “cursed” tombstone. The next day, she was hanging clothes on the clothesline in her back yard when somehow, the clothesline detached itself from one of the two posts and strangled her. Afterwards, her neighbors gathered in small groups on street corners and in the local café and whispered to each other that Carl Pruitt’s tombstone had claimed another victim. They also thought it strange that the woman had done not damage to the tombstone, even though the badly dented ax was covered in rock dust.

One of the people who heard about the dead woman’s fate was a farmer. He was driving three members of his family past the cemetery in a wagon when, in a show of bravado, he produced a pistol from his coat and began shooting in the direction of Carl Pruitt’s tombstone. The percussion of the pistol and spray of flying chips of granite spooked the horses. As the horses gained speed, the farmer’s family members jumped off, but he continued holding onto the reins in a vain attempt to slow the wagon down. As the runaway wagon rounded a sharp curve, the farmer toppled forward in his seat and fell into the trace chains, one of which wrapped itself around his neck and strangled him. Once again, there was no evidence of any damage to Carl Pruitt’s tombstone.

Following this incident, a number of people pressured their congressman to do something about the murderous tombstone. Not long thereafter, two policemen were dispatched to the cemetery. Convinced that the stories about the tombstone were nonsense, the policeman chuckled to themselves as they took photographs in the vicinity of Carl Pruitt’s grave. They were still laughing when they climbed into their squad car and drove in the direction of the town. All at once, one of the policemen glanced in the rearview mirror and observed a ball of light flying out of the cemetery in their direction. Terrified, the driver accelerated, but the ball of light kept coming. After a couple of minutes, the car swerved off the road and crashed between two posts. The policeman riding in the passenger seat was thrown clear of the car, and he began looking for his partner. He found his mutilated body lying on the ground. Piecing the evidence together, the policeman realized that the chain between the two posts had smashed the windshield of the car and nearly decapitated his partner.

By the 1940s, most people in area avoided the cemetery altogether because of the evil reputation it had acquired from Carl Pruitt’s tombstone. Nevertheless, another local man decided to defy the curse of Carl Pruitt’s tombstone. One night, he ventured into the cemetery with hammer in hand. He marched up to Carl Pruitt’s grave and proceeded to pound away at his tombstone, breaking off large chunks of stone. The hammering was so loud that it could be heard by people living nearby. They chose to ignore the noise until the sounds of the hammering were replaced by a blood-curdling scream. A party of men holding lanterns ran to the cemetery. What they saw froze their blood. Apparently, the man became so frightened by something that he ran to the entrance and caught his neck in the long chain used to lock the gate. Like the other people foolish enough to attack the tombstone, he was choked to death. The men were not surprised to find that the man had suffered much more damage than Carl Puritt’s tombstone did.

The last death that was attributed to Carl Pruitt’s tombstone spelled the end of the cemetery. Not only did burials at the cemetery cease abruptly, but people even began exhuming their loved ones. By the 1950s, the only grave that remained was Carl Pruitt’s. In 1958, the site of the former cemetery—and Carl Pruitt’s grave—was destroyed by a strip-mining operation. All that remains is the legend of Carl Pruitt’s vengeful tombstone.

Paramount Joe

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Kentucky

One of Ashland, Kentucky’s most elegant historic landmarks is The Paramount Arts Center. It is housed in the Paramount Theater, which was originally designed by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp to show silent movies. Ironically, by the time construction was completed in 1931, silent movies had been replaced by “talkies.” The spacious theater continued to show movies for the next forty years. The Paramount closed in 1971 but reopened in 1972 as a performing arts center called the Paramount Arts Center. As a part of its mission to reaffirm the region’s Appalachian traditions, the Paramount has featured acts such as the Nashville-style production Highway 23 Jamboree and the Troubador Concert Series, which offers folk and acoustic performances. Today, the 1400-seat theater attracts approximately 120,000 people annually. Interestingly enough, one of the theater’s best-known attractions died over seventy-five years ago.

In 1931 when construction of the Paramount Theater had just begun, a four-man work crew from the Boyd Theater Company was working in the stage area. At noon, a worker named Joe decided to stay behind while his coworkers went to lunch. When the three men returned, they were shocked to find Joe’s corpse hanging from the curtain rigging. The cause of death was never officially determined to be suicide. Over the years, people have had some very odd encounters with the spirit that has come to be known as “Paramount Joe.” Witnesses have seen lights turn off and on by themselves. People have felt drafts of cold air in the heated sections of the theater. Sometimes, the silence of the theater is broken by the sound of heavy boots stomping across the stage. Even the faint image of a man manifests itself in the theater once in a while.

In the Web site, one can find the story of the marketing director who was taking a group of high school students on a tour of the Paramount Arts Center in 2004. On a lark, he cast his eyes to the ceiling asked Paramount Joe for permission to tell his story. At that exact moment, everyone present heard a seat squeal, even though no one was seated at the time. The marketing director did not give the incident a second thought until a psychic called to say that she had a message for him from the “other side.” She said, “I’m supposed to tell you that Joe said he is here.”

The most famous incident involving Paramount Joe occurred in 1992. Country singer Billy Ray Cyrus was filming a video for his song “Achy Braky Heart” in the Paramount. While he was there, Billy Ray heard stories about Paramount Joe. Before long, Billy Ray half-jokingly began carrying on conversations with Joe, sometimes even asking him for help. Before leaving, Billy Ray signed photographs of himself for all of the female members of the theater staff. He even autographed one photograph to Paramount Joe. These 8 X 10 photographs occupied a special place in the box office, along with pictures signed by other performers over the years. Over time, the walls of the box office became so cluttered with photographs that the executive director asked the female employees to remove their photographs autographed by Billy Ray Cyrus. None of the women wanted their photographs taken down, so they took Paramount Joe’s photograph off the wall instead. The next morning, the women were surprised to find that all of the 8 X 10 photographs were lying on the floor of the box office, some with the glass broken. To prevent a similar occurrence, the staff has hung Paramount Joe’s photograph in a special area of the Marquee Room

Researchers have had great difficulty documenting the specifics of the story of Paramount Joe. No one connected with the Paramount Arts Center really cares about authenticating the legend because for them, he is a very real presence. They think of Paramount Joe as a good ghost who seems to look out for the theater and its occupants.

A Very Close Encounter in Paintsville

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Kentucky

Every year, hundreds of UFO sightings are reported throughout the world. Thousands of images of UFOs have been captured in photographs and on video, but very little physical evidence of UFO visitations has been collected. In 1957, several UFO fragments of a UFO crash were collected in Ubatuba, Brazil. In 1966, a disk-shaped object that landed in Horseshoe Lagoon in Australia left behind a circular impression. That same year, a camp site at Roaring River, Missouri, is reputed to have been destroyed by a UFO at Roaring River, Missouri. In 1971, a glowing ring on the ground was reported as evidence of the landing of a UFO in Missouri. In 1979, a Minnesota Deputy Sheriff, Val Johnson, claimed that her vehicle sustained considerable damage after being struck by a flying disk. One of the most intriguing confrontations between human beings and a UFO took place in Paintsville, Kentucky.

The story of the Kentucky Coal Train Collision was first reported by Peter Davenport, Director of the national UFO Reporting Center. On January 14, 2002, a coal train en route from Russell, Kentucky, to Shelbiana, Kentucky. At 2:47 a.m., the train was rounding a bend near milepost 42 when the electrical systems started to malfunction. The computer began flashing off and on; at the same time, the speed recorder began going haywire. Suddenly, both the engines in both locomotives inexplicably died. As the train coasted around a corner, the ringing of the alarm bells heightened the crew’s apprehension. Gazing up into the sky, the crew noticed three flying objects that appeared to be flying over the river. One of the objects hovered so close that the crew was able to get a close look at it. The metallic silver craft, which floated about ten to twelve feet above the track, was lined with colored lights. The train had just begun going around the bend when the crew members noticed a pair of lights headed in their direction. To avoid blinding the crew on what appeared to be an on-coming train, the engineer cut the lights.

The metallic object appeared to be eighteen to twenty feet long and ten feet high. A series of multi-colored lights lined the bottom of the craft. W hen the UFO finally caught sight of the train, it was too late. The flying object clipped the top of the lead unit and then struck two of the coal cars. At the time, the train was traveling at 30 mph with 16,000 tons trailing behind it. The engineer assumed that the UFO did not hear the train because both of its engines were dead. As soon as the lead UFO collided with the train, the other two flying objects vanished.

Immediately upon impact, the emergency brakes initiated, causing the train to coast to a complete stop a mile and a half or two miles down the line. The power was restored just as the train was coming to a halt, enabling the engineer to radio the dispatcher in Jacksonville, Florida. After hearing a detailed account of the train’s encounter with the UFO, the dispatcher ordered the engineer to take the train to the Paintsville yard.

Even though the cab of the rear locomotive was demolished and the second two cars had sustained heavy damage, the train was able to pull into Paintsville yard at 5:15 a.m. As soon as the crew had removed their grips from the train, a large group of men dressed in strange outfits ran up to the crew. The engineer was struck by the complete absence of railroad officials on the scene. The leader of the group, a man named Ferguson, asked the crew to follow him into his office. Immediately, Ferguson’s men began assailing the crew with questions. At the end of the interview, the crew members were told that they would have to be medically tested before they could leave. Ferguson not only denied the engineer’s request to contact the road foremen, but he even confiscated the conductor’s cell phone.

As the crew members walked away from the office, they noticed that the two locomotives and two cars had been removed from the rest of the train. The men were escorted out of the train yard and ordered not to discus the incident with anyone. They were placed on a railroad vehicle and taken to Martin, Kentucky, where they were interrogated and drug tested. After resting for eight hours, the crew was assigned to a different train. The first time the engineer passed by the Paintsville yard, he was struck by the fact that no trace of a damaged train was visible from the track.

A Brief History of Eastern Kentucky

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Kentucky

Eastern Kentucky, which is also known as the Appalachian Plateau, is a triangle-shaped region stretching from New York to Alabama. This mountainous area is part of the Appalachian Mountains system. Kentucky’s primary mountain ranges—the Cumberland and Pine Mountains—form much of the southeastern border of Kentucky. Eastern Kentucky’s most valuable natural resource—coal—can be found in the Eastern Coal Field. Sharp ridges and narrow valleys, created by eroding streams, wind through the area. Because the Appalachian Plateau contains some of the poorest soils in the region, only a few crops are grown here.

Mr. Tutwiler’s Return: The Tutwiler Hotel

October 5, 2009 by tgd  
Filed under Alabama

The Tutwiler Hotel had its inception in a statement made by the President of the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company. In 1907, George Gordon Crawford told Robert Jemison, Jr., that when members of the finance committee came to visit him in Birmingham to consider appropriations for the modernization of existing plants and the building of new ones, they spent most of their time complaining of inadequate hotel facilities. Realizing that Crawford’s concerns were valid, Jemison began looking for the perfect site for the kind of luxury hotel that would attract businessmen like George Gordon Crawford to Birmingham. He settled a 140 X 150 foot lot on the east corner of Fifth Avenue and 20th Street owned by Harvey Woodward. Jemison challenged Crawford and other businessmen to join him in what promised to be a very profitable business venture. One of the businessmen Jemison approached was Major Edward Magruder Tutwiler, who agreed to sell his interest in the Tutwiler Coal & Coke Company at a price around $1,850,000 to underwrite the first mortgage bonds for the new hotel. Tutwiler’s only condition was that the new hotel be named “The Tutwiler.” Because Tutwiler was the largest shareholder in the project, Jemison happily granted Tutwiler’s request. The plans for the hotel were a composite of the varied floor levels of the Blackstone Hotel of Chicago, the caenstone valuted ceilings of the Vanderbilt Hotel of New York, and the terra cotta and fisk tapestry brick exterior of the MacAlpin Hotel of New York. Flower boxes, of the type featured in the Vanderbilt Hotel, would be used to divide the lounge and café’ space on the mezzanine floor. The owner of the Statler Hotel in New York recommended the installation of pipe chacers from basement to roof. As a result of the planners desire to construct Birmingham first truly luxury hotel, final building costs soared to$1,600,000. The investors’ dream became a reality when the Tutwiler Hotel opened its door on June 15, 1914.

For the next sixty years, the Tutwiler reigned as the “Grand Dame of Birmingham’s hostelries. For years, it was the scene of a multitude of business, social, and political functions. Celebrities, politicians, and dignitaries from all over the United States traveled hundreds of miles to walk through its doors. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh held a press conference in the Louis XIV Suite. President Warren G. Harding, who had traveled to the Birmingham to help celebrate the city’s semi-centennial, slept at the Tutwiler. Tallulah Bankhead threw a post-wedding party in the Centennial Room.

By the 1970s, the Tutwiler Hotel’s glory days were long in the past. Finally, in 1974, plans were made to demolish the old hotel to make room for a new bank. On January 27, 1974, the Tutwiler made history as one of the first buildings to be imploded. However, the razing of the hotel proved to be much more difficult than Jack Loizeaux, chief of Controlled Demolition, Inc. Following the initial explosion, the south wing was still standing, primarily because the Tutwiler was a supported by a skeleton of structural steel instead of reinforced concrete. Total destruction of the remaining structure was not completed until several weeks later.

The Tutwiler Hotel returned over a decade later when the hotel management firm of Lincoln Hotel Corporation set about renovating the eight-story Ridgely Hotel at 21st Street North and Park Place. It was built by Major Tutwiler the same year the ground was broken for the original Tutwiler Hotel. For years, the Ridgely operated as an “apartment Hotel,” where residents lived on both a transient and a full-time basis. The architectural firm of Kidd/Plosser/Sprague was hired to convert the historic but worn Ridgely Apartments into a shining new Tutwiler Hotel. Birmingham received an $897,000 urban development action grant for the $15 million Ridgely project. The architects strove to maintain the character of the original 1914 building, including the preservation of the original fireplaces. A black-tie gala was held on December 13, 1986, to celebrate the grand opening of the newly- re-named “The Tutwiler” Hotel. Proceeds from the $75-dollar ticket price benefited the Birmingham Historical Society.

Today, the eight-story Tutwiler Hotel retains much of the splendor of its predecessor. The 149-room hotel has thirteen different room layouts on each floor. The hotel includes fifty-three suites, ninety-six standard guest rooms, four banquet and meeting rooms, and a restaurant and bar. The lobby area, which has two separate anterooms with fireplaces, is resplendent in a décor of tapestries and Italian marble. A first-floor meeting room is trimmed in dark-stained oak beams and cloth-covered walls. The original terra cotta cornices, which had been removed years before when they deteriorated beyond repair, were replaced with fiberglass cornices at a cost of $400,000. A citation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation is proof that the new owners have succeeded in their efforts to restore the Tutwiler’s Old World Charm. Eye-witness testimony from guests and employees suggest that the extensive renovations might have awakened the dormant spirit of Major Tutwiler as well.

In paranormal circles, the Tutwiler Hotel has earned a reputation as a place where guests are likely to receive attention from beings other than maids and bellboys. A bell captain, who has worked at the Tutwiler Hotel since 2004, has never seen a ghost in the hotel, but he has had experiences with something that he calls a “knocker.” Guests staying on the 6th Floor have called him up in the middle of the night to complain about being awakened by someone knocking on the door. By the time the guests walk groggily across the room and open the door, no one is there. In November 2004, a female guest staying in Room 604 informed the bell captain over the phone that someone was knocking on her door and she was really frightened. When the bell captain walked into Room 604, she was sitting on the bed, shaking uncontrollably. After she calmed down, she told the bell captain that she was awakened by frantic knocking on her door. Sensing that there was an emergency, she jumped out of bed and opened the door. When she opened the door and stepped outside, she was shocked to find that the hallway was completely empty. All at once, she felt as if she was in the presence of something unearthly. She retreated back inside her room and slammed the door. The bell captain believes that the Tutwiler Hotel was haunted long before he began working there: “I’ve had some guests who have been staying at the hotel for the past ten or fifteen years tell me about the ghost knocking on their door.” He has concluded that the ghost must be male because most of the recipients of his midnight visits are female.

The Tutwiler Hotel’s best-known ghost story took place late one night in 1995. The bartender was in the restaurant, turning off the lights and stoves, just as he had been doing for years. He had just clocked out and was leaving the restaurant when he felt the urge to look back. To his surprise, the lights were back on. When he walked back inside, he was shocked to find that the stoves were turned on as well. He turned off all of the lights and appliances and walked out the doorway. When he turned around, the lights and stoves were turned on once again. The bartender tried two more times to turn off everything before finally giving up and going home. As the bartender had expected, the General Manager did not accept his explanation that “something” inside the restaurant kept turning everything back on. For five nights, the bartender tried everything in his power to keep the lights and appliances turned off, but to no avail. On the morning of the sixth day, the bartender walked into the General Manager’s office, fully expecting to receive a “tongue lashing,” just as he had the previous five mornings. Instead of “chewing him out,” the General manager told the bartender to follow him to the restaurant. “I’ve got something to show you,” he said. Expecting the worst, the bartender followed the General manager into the restaurant. He gazed in amazement at one of the tables, on which someone—or something—had set a full-course meal and placed a bottle of vintage wine. The curtains were drawn as well, as if the waiter were trying to create an intimate atmosphere. All of the employees of the hotel were interviewed, but no logical explanation for the “midnight dinner” was ever found. Working on the theory that the perpetrator was the ghost of Mr. Tutwiler, the bartender began saying, “Goodnight, Mr. Tutwiler. Please turn off the lights, and don’t make a mess!” before closing up the restaurant. For over a decade, no nocturnal activity inside the restaurant has occurred.

Even believers in the paranormal have difficulty understanding why Mr. Tutwiler’s ghost haunts the new Tutwiler Hotel, but his spirit has never been reported inside the original hotel. The answer is more obvious than it might appear to be. Mr. Tutwiler never really lived in the first Tutwiler Hotel, but he did live in the Ridgely Apartments. Could it be that Tutwiler’s spirit, like the Tutwiler Hotel, has been resurrected?

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