VALDOSTA — Every town has one.
A story about a house where strange things seem to happen.
An account of someone who disappeared right before someone’s eyes.
Or stranger still, someone who has appeared long after they were supposed to be gone.
As October comes to a close and the chill in the air gets a little bit stronger, it is the perfect time to revisit ghostly legends that are shared across the SunLight Project coverage areas of Valdosta, Dalton, Thomasville, Milledgeville, Tifton and Moultrie, Ga., and Live Oak, Jasper and Mayo, Fla., along with the surrounding counties.
If you ask anyone who has been in Valdosta very long, the Bell House on Ashley Street near downtown is the city’s number one haunted hot spot.
With a peculiar history added to its grand exterior, it’s easy to see why the 145-year-old house would be the center of Valdosta’s ghost stories. Currently vacant, the Bell House has previously been a pizza place, a cajun restaurant, a bed and breakfast, and a home to its namesake, Dr. David S. Bell.
Dr. Bell was not a true medical doctor, but rather, a medicine man. Bell traveled and sold a number of various tonics and potions, according to Jim Miles, author of the book "Haunted South Georgia." The remedies included “Re-Nue-U,” a tonic which Bell stated would “bring you back” when you were gone. Perhaps his tonic worked in an unexpected way.
Since his passing in 1964, stories have circulated about strange things happening within the walls of the historic house.
Miles’ book tells a few accounts of investigations that took place in the Bell House.
Dr. William Roll, a professional parapsychology professor, and some of his students visited the house in the 1990s to test for paranormal activity. They found abnormally high electromagnetic field (known as EMF) readings in different spots of the house. Roll said strong EMF readings can cause people susceptible to their effects to have hallucinations and even trigger psychic abilities.
“So, what you see, in fact, occurred in the past,” he said.
Another account shared in Miles’ book came from some of the home’s previous owners, Robert and Kayza Nixon. Robert, at one point, saw an apparition of someone walking through the house while it was being used as a restaurant.
“It walked through the dining room, around the bar area and disappeared. It was like 2 a.m., and I had to ask someone else if they saw it too. They did,” he said.
Collecting a story from every county for his series of "Haunted Georgia" books, Miles said some stand out from the rest. The Bell House stories stood out from others because of the longevity of the tales.
“It’s a long-term story. We know the family lived there. And three businesses with owners and workers have experienced activity. That brings authenticity to it.”
In "Haunted South Georgia," Miles notes that Southern Ghost Hunters Paranormal Investigations of Georgia investigated the home in 2004.
Danice Brault, formerly part of Southern Ghost Hunters for roughly 13 years, had experiences while investigating the Bell House when it was still open and operating as Vito’s Pizzeria and Lounge. The team investigated many locations in Valdosta and the surrounding counties. While conducting the investigations, Brault and the SGH team said they encountered two types of haunts: residual and intelligent.
“Intelligent haunts are the fun ones. They’re interacting with you,” Brault said.
During intelligent haunts, some of Brault’s equipment is said to help make communication between the living and unseen easier. Using a “GB,” or ghost box, entities can communicate in real time using radio channels, she said. Brault said her most compelling incident using a ghost box occurred when asking how many beings there were in one location; the number eight was said eight times in eight different voices.
While intelligent haunts are often the most interesting for investigators, the activity Southern Ghost Hunters found at Vito’s was what they called "residual."
“Residual activity happens on a daily basis. What’s there doesn’t really know anything is around,” Brault said.
Residual activity often means a spirit is following a routine, allowing multiple people to experience the same sounds or feelings, she said.
In the residual Electronic Voice Phenomenons (EVPs) that Brault captured upstairs in the house, the same voices were captured more than once saying the same things, she said.
“They don’t communicate with anyone; they just do what they do,” Brault said.
During investigations, Brault said it can take hours to get one piece of evidence, or just minutes. She also emphasized that not every house with strange noises is haunted.
“Just because your house creaks, doesn’t mean your house is haunted," she said. "Just because you see a shadow, doesn’t mean there is a ghost.”
Orbs in photos are reported as a common experience for amateur ghost hunters and people looking to prove legends of a haunting. Brault said orbs are also the biggest mis-perceived phenomenon.
“It helps when you have photos, but if you’re outside taking a picture on a dirt road," she said, "is it really an orb or just dirt?”
Brault said an important part of investigating is to “de-bunk” activity. If a strange occurrence can be explained by something not so strange, it puts homeowners at ease to know their paranormal activity is actually quite normal.
Also in Miles’ book, he includes an account for Berrien County that was a residential home in Ray City.
“The activity in the Ray City house was poltergeist-like,” Miles said.
As it turns out, Brault’s sister lived there for a short period of time.
“We investigated for six months — every weekend. It was serious activity,” Brault said.
“The EVPs are off the charts in that place,” she continued.
The former paranormal team recorded many instances of the words “Get out” being said, as well as “Get the hammer,” followed by “kill her.”
After hearing a name in an EVP, a professor who was part of the team did some research into the home’s history. The same name was found to be a former resident who had died in the home.
During one investigation, a member of the team made a funny comment. In response to the comment, a soda bottle was thrown and hit her, she said.
Another unexplained experience in the home came from the radio. Turning off and on throughout the night, the team took the batteries out of the remote control. The radio continued to turn off and on, so it was unplugged.
“About 10 minutes later, it was back on and had been plugged back in,” Brault said.
Brault’s sister eventually moved from the home because she couldn’t take the activity anymore.
Since the disbanding of Southern Ghost Hunters, Brault has investigated for friends on her own but isn’t actively seeking investigations. The paranormal is always something she has been interested in and she has experienced activity everywhere from Alaska to Georgia, but she said her sister’s house was one of the most active locations she had experienced.
Houses aren’t the only buildings that seem to keep their tenants around longer than expected. Brault also had an experience while investigating the Tifton Agrirama.
“It has good hot spots,” she said.
At one point while investigating, her leg was yanked while she was sitting at a table. Upon looking at her leg, she discovered a bruise and what appeared to be finger imprints where she had felt being grabbed.
There are other locations that have more legend behind them in Tift County. One is Hickory Springs Primitive Baptist Church.
Stories surrounding the church have been around for decades. No one knows the origins of the legends but everyone knows about the ghost lights and the immovable Bible.
Hickory Springs is a plain, quaint white church with a cemetery around it, much like many others in the area. The church itself is more than 100 years old.
The cemetery is where the story begins. They say if you drive slowly around the cemetery, your car will be followed by red and white ghost lights. The lights will follow you until you leave, watching to ensure that the dead remain undisturbed.
If you enter the church, there is a Bible on the altar that cannot be removed from the church.
According to the legend, years ago a group of teenagers broke into the church and began to vandalize it. They painted on the walls, moved the pews and tossed the hymn books around.
When they tried to pick up the Bible, it was unnaturally heavy. The vandals tried taking it from the church, but the closer they got to the door, the heavier it became.
One of them tried carrying it at first, then a second tried to help, and then there were three of them trying to carry it. They got no further than 10 feet from the front door, and the Bible slammed itself to the ground and was unable to be moved.
The vandals fled, leaving the Bible on the floor.
To this day, the story goes, the Bible cannot be removed from the church.
In recent years, it seems the haunting has expanded. No longer is just the church haunted but the area surrounding it as well. Night-time visitors see shadows where there shouldn’t be any, shadows that follow you.
Supposedly, law enforcement now makes extra patrols through the area to keep people away.
The historic Tift Theatre also has tales of a ghost.
The legend goes the theatre is occupied by the ghost of a man who made a deal with his girlfriend.
They had a fight and had agreed to meet at the theatre on a certain day if they wanted to continue the relationship. Before the date came, the man was killed in a car accident.
Supposedly, the man’s spirit made it to the theatre and is waiting to see if she will arrive.
The ghost has been credited with moving things and making the lights flicker.
It seems theatres could be popular among the ghost community.
The Dalton Little Theatre has been housed at 210 N. Pentz St. for almost 40 years. It was initially built in 1888 as a two-story fire station.
It is also the home of a ghost named Carl.
"Carl Johnson was a firefighter back in the 1950s, when the building was still a fire station. I don't know the exact date," said Connie Hall-Scott, author of "Haunted Dalton." "He and the other firefighters had been out on a call. They came back and the other firefighters went upstairs to shower and change clothes but Carl said he didn't feel well and sat down to rest. When the others came down, they thought he was asleep. But after some time, they tried to wake him and found he'd died of a heart attack."
Since, firefighters and later members of the theatre troupe have said they have seen paranormal activity in the building.
Firefighters would return to the building after a fire, go upstairs to shower and come back down to find their equipment had been put away. Members of the theater company would arrive to find their props rearranged. People would see a man out of the corner of their eyes, turn and no one would be there.
"Everyone in the theater has heard of Carl," Hall-Scott said. "If anything goes missing, they blame it on him. But I don't think anyone really believes it.
"My own son, six or seven years ago, had an experience there," she said. "We were upstairs. My daughter was upstairs auditioning for a play, and my son was getting bored. He was 13 or 14 at the time. And he kept asking when we were going to leave. He stepped out onto the stairs. When he came back in he was quiet and asked me 'Mom, did a man come in?" I said, 'No, why?' And he said he was adjusting one of his contacts. He saw a man coming up the stairs and stepped to the side. But the man never came by. I said 'I think you just had a Carl experience.'"
This week's Halloween inspired SunLight Project is meant solely for entertainment purposes. The accounts and beliefs included are representative of those interviewed. For more stories like these, please see the continued SunLight story in the Tuesday, Oct. 31 edition.
This week's Halloween inspired SunLight Project is meant solely for entertainment purposes. The accounts and beliefs included are representative of those interviewed.
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This week's Halloween inspired SunLight Project is meant solely for entertainment purposes. The accounts and beliefs included are representative of those interviewed.
Suwannee County Historian Eric Musgrove has a few legends and stories about ghosts in the county, including a ghost much like Dalton’s Carl who takes the blame for unusual occurrences.
Musgrove is an author of five books about Suwannee County history including “Lost Suwannee County.” He also works for Suwannee County as the official records custodian.
“We joke about a ghost here at the courthouse,” Musgrove said.
The spirit of Clerk of Court J.W. Bryson is said to still roam the halls.
“He spent 60-plus years in the courthouse in some capacity,” Musgrove said.
According to Musgrove, J.W. Bryson served as Suwannee County clerk of court from 1905 to 1933. He continued to work at the courthouse as an abstract researcher for a long time after ending his clerk of court terms.
“We blame him if something happens and we can’t figure it out,” Musgrove said.
Suwannee County also has a legend that the daughter of Luraville’s founder still roams around her final home.
Col. Washington Lafayette Irving settled in 1878 in Luraville where he operated a ferry, Musgrove said.
He named the community after his 5-year-old daughter, Lura.
Musgrove said at the age of 15, Lura was horribly burned in a girl’s dormitory fire in 1888.
Lura returned home to Luraville to be cared for by Dr. Perry McIntosh. He was her guardian since her parents had died. McIntosh was her uncle on her mother’s side and cousin on her father’s side.
She later died on Dec. 26, 1888.
The Perry McIntosh home still sits off of State Highway 5 and seems it may always be occupied by one of its earliest inhabitants.
“Supposedly, she roams around,” Musgrove said.
Some people who have heard stories of local legends haven’t always experienced a ghost firsthand, despite working closely to such tales.
Cheryl Walters was not scared of ghosts. She genuinely wanted to see one. She kept an open mind and waited patiently.
Walters was in the perfect location to encounter a ghost. For 21 years, she was curator at the Lapham-Patterson House in Thomasville, a house said to be rife with ghostly figures.
"There are many, many, many ghosts, according to visitors and people who have had spectral experiences," Walters said.
Some people have visited the 626 N. Dawson St. house to experience the rumored aura. A woman walked through the house with her arms outstretched, in hopes that ectoplasm — a physical manifestation of the energy and essence of a ghost — would come through her fingertips.
The ghost woman is reaching for Charles Lapham.
Lapham, a Chicago show manufacturer, built the Queen Anne-style house in 1885. A victim of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, Lapham said he came to Thomasville for his health and to recover from smoke inhalation from the fire. He allowed his likeness to be used in advertisements promoting Thomasville as a health resort.
Lapham, who was deep into spiritualism, posed for a spirit picture in 1917.
"The spirit picture was an early form of photoshopping, in which the same negative would be used to take multiple exposures to create the image but was sold as a 'supernatural' item," said Ephraim Rotter, Thomas County Historical Society curator. "People would bring in portraits and photographs of deceased ancestors, etc."
On a night when Walters was reading Edgar Allan Poe, the house was dark, with the exception of candles and her reading light. Readings were done from a balcony over the living room. Performers sat on stairs leading down to the balcony.
A performer on the staircase said she felt a tap on her shoulder and saw a little girl.
"She firmly believed it was (Mr.) Lapham's daughter, who died in the house of pneumonia," Walters said.
Walters occasionally heard sounds, creaking and wind blowing under the house, which has 45 doors. The house is not insulated, resulting in more noises.
"You're going to have to do something better than that. You're going to have to do something to impress me," Walters, who spent nights alone in the house, told the ghosts.
Sometimes she heard wind blowing down the staircase. Other times she had an uncanny feeling someone was watching her.
"But nothing ever came of it," Walters said.
Not until about 10 p.m. on a stormy night when she was alone in the house decorating the ceiling for Thomasville’s annual Victorian Christmas celebration.
Walters did not like to climb ladders when no one else was around but on that night she did. While on the ladder, she heard something and saw a large lithograph moving back and forth on the wall where it hung.
"I got down off the ladder," Walters said. "I sat down and watched it shake."
The framed artwork continued to shake for five minutes. Walters could not take her eyes off the moving lithograph.
Eventually, she climbed the ladder again and continued decorating. The shaking began again. Walters got off the ladder and waited until the shaking stopped. Each time she got on the ladder, the artwork began to shake.
The mystery was soon solved but it was no ghostly intrusion: The movement was the result of an open window and the furnace coming on.
"When it would stop shaking would be when the furnace would turn off," said Walters, who is now mayor of Meigs.
Does she believe in ghosts? As Walters told Lapham-Patterson House visitors, "If you believe ghosts are here, they are. If not, they aren't."
Milledgeville has 200 years of history and was the former home of the world’s largest mental hospital; the city has no shortage of paranormal activity, according to reports.
While visitors of several buildings and antebellum houses around town claim to have seen ghosts and spirits through the years, perhaps the most popular otherworldly “destination” is Central State Hospital.
For decades, visitors to the hospital have reported hearing strange noises and feeling an extrasensory presence around some of the older buildings, and the intrigue surrounding the campus is so great the hospital’s Local Redevelopment Authority has resorted to hiring a private security firm to patrol the grounds at all hours of the day.
Although Central State has no shortage of accounts of strange activity, perhaps the most interesting ghost in Milledgeville resides in Rose Hill, the mansion overlooking the city’s Lockerly Arboretum.
Originally built about 1839 by Milledgeville businessman R.J. Nichols, the house was purchased in 1851 by a local judge named Daniel Reese Tucker.
Although the house passed through several hands after Tucker’s death in 1879, visitors have claimed to have been visited by the ghosts of Tucker and his daughter, Emma. After E.J. Grassman purchased the home in the 1960s and began to make it into the Arboretum meeting place it is today, plumbers, electricians and maids claimed a young girl in a flowing white dress and a tall man in a dark coat still occupy the mansion’s third floor.
The sightings center around Emma’s former bedroom on the third floor, and one former resident of the house said the sightings are more than just stories.
In the spring of 1964, Bruce Greenwall’s father was hired as a contractor to help update the mansion with modern amenities, and the former Rose Hill resident believes the commotion of renovating the enormous house disturbed the Tucker ghosts.
“Sometimes, my father would allow me to stay in the house on, say a Friday night, to hunt squirrels, and I would go through the house by myself and try to run across the ghosts,” Greenwall said. “I never was lucky enough to do it, but over the years a lady named Lula Mae worked there keeping the house up during the week. She swore that the house was haunted, and she was afraid of one room upstairs because she swore there was a ghost in that room … They say the ghost of old Dan Tucker used to sit on that top floor and look out over his grand estate.”
Although Rose Hill will not likely see a reduction in foot traffic any time soon, one can only hope the ghosts of Judge Tucker and his daughter, Emma, can someday find peace.
Some tales of ghostly activity don’t stem from a centuries-old house. A residential home in Valdosta has a grim history that hasn’t had time to be passed down for generations. Located on Williams Street, recent residents have experienced feelings and sounds that are not from the living following a murder that took place in the center of the home within the last decade.
Police confirmed no weapon was used in the untimely death, but never did release exactly how the occupant was killed.
A recent occupant, who prefer to simply be referred to as Nicole T., lived in the home from December 2009 until May of this year had a number of incidents that occurred while she lived there.
A roommate of Nicole heard what she described as a “thunderous run through the hallway and a huge door slam.” She called out to see if Nicole was OK before she remembered she was alone in the home for the weekend.
The recent tenant’s favorite experience happened shortly after she moved into the house on Williams.
“I own a marimba and I had just finished setting up my music room,” Nicole said.
“I heard someone fiddling on my marimba … They were confident in their strokes, playing something like a lead tune for a classical piece.”
The tenant sat back and listened, not wanting to disturb her roommate or embarrass them. As the melody finished, however, she was surprised.
“I burst into the room with the biggest smile, saying ‘I didn’t know you were a musici——.’”
But no one was there.
The tenant had been told a previous owner of the home was a musician. Perhaps he never left.
The house on Williams Street has unique architecture with curved walls, large built-ins, and stained-glass accents giving it characteristics that make it easier to believe something strange is happening on the inside.
Maybe in the coming years, more locals will tell each other legends of that home alongside stories of the Bell House and Dr. David S. Bell, Dalton's theater and Carl the fireman, or any of the SunLight coverage area's other ghostly residents.
Only time will tell.
The SunLight Project team of journalists who contributed to this report includes Jessie Box, Patti Dozier, Eve Guevara, Alan Mauldin, Charles Oliver, Sarah Warrender, and Will Woolever. The SunLight Project is directed and edited by Jim Zachary and Dean Poling.
To contact the team, email firstname.lastname@example.org