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In The Shadow Of The South: Haunted Mississippi

Haunted Mississippi 1

A shadowy grandma rocks in her chair, seen through a window in Vicksburg. A spooky text appears on an unattended phone in Natchez. A man in Jones County is yanked from his chair by the ankle, pulled from the unknowable beyond. These are the things said to happen across haunted Mississippi.

The history of the state is often sorrowful, riddled with turmoil and tears. Many of its old structures still exist. Both features make Mississippi perfect for anyone who believes the dead walk among us, striving to keep their memories alive in buildings they either loved or hated.

Justin Pritchett of the paranormal investigative group Mississippi Ghost Chasers spends his free time trying to hear the stories he believes these spirits want to tell. He and a several others pool their money to pay for road trips to places of creepy reputation. Pritchett has been hunting down lost souls for, as he puts it, “four years with really good equipment,” but he’s been interested in this stuff for going on a decade.

Haunted Mississippi 2The equipment ranges from the everyday — as basic as a flashlight and camcorder — to the high-tech night vision or infrared cameras, motion detectors, and K-II meters and gauss meters to measure electromagnetic fields. The most esoteric of the bunch is something called a “spirit box,” a new tool he said he loves.

“It’s a modified radio that picks up AM and FM frequencies and shuffles through stations,” said Pritchett, who explained the box is designed to reveal voices from beyond the grave. “It’s the white noise that we’re trying to catch,” he said, insisting voices emitted are from spirits, not from broadcasters sitting at microphones. He said it’s the real deal.

Pritchett names places across Mississippi he says are truly haunted. Waverley Plantation in West Point. King’s Tavern of Natchez. Cedar Grove in Vicksburg. The Cypress Cafe in Bay St. Louis, where he said “we got voices coming out of the spirit box clear as day.”
As midnight approached he and his team assembled outside Meridian’s Temple Theater for their next paranormal investigation. The Moorish revival style theater, built in the 1920s, was on this night hosting a Chippendale’s dance show in its ballroom. Even during the raucous show, his team members mounted cameras and motion detectors in the adjacent theater and prepared for the calmness – and darkness – that would follow.

“My entire life, I’ve heard stories about it,” Pritchett said, of tales of underground catacombs. “They say it was used for storage, but once it was cleaned out, people started hearing voices.”

Pritchett said one possible spectre could be a woman who was organist of the theater’s rare and prized possession, a 778-pipe Robert Morton Theater Pipe Organ, which made the music to accompany silent films shown during the late 1920s. Though the silent-era didn’t last long at the Temple, the organ was used throughout the years and is still operational for events and the theater’s Silent Film Sundays. It is one of only two such organs in the state of Mississippi.

Haunted Mississippi 4Communication with the organist may or may not come to pass, but one thing’s for sure: Pritchett believes unequivocally that it’s possible. He claims he successfully communicated with a spirit at Rowan Oak in Oxford. The Greek revival-style home on 29 acres was built in 1844 by Robert Sheegog and was purchased by William Faulkner in the 1930s. Sold by his daughter to the University of Mississippi, Rowan Oak is open for tours.

Pritchett said he’s spoken directly with a male spirit in the home, by way of a Maglite flashlight, a common device that acts, for him, as an unlikely portal to the paranormal world. The flashlight, with its top unscrewed just enough so that a spirit only
needs to gently tap it to make the light flicker in response to a yes or no question – gives voice to trapped souls eager to speak, according to Pritchett.

“We asked very specific questions,” he said. “Stories were that William Faulkner haunted this place, but that isn’t what we found out … we never caught anything of William Faulkner.” According to Pritchett, Sheegog is the male spectre of this famous home; however, there is a caveat. Naysayers contend the flashlight tapping is merely the device’s core heating and cooling.
There’s another spot Pritchett said beats them all: The Amos Deason House.

Haunted Mississippi 5Situated in the small town of Ellisville in Jones County, the home was the site of an infamous Civil War shooting. It was built in 1845 by a wealthy local, Amos Deason. While most in the area remained loyal to the South, a band of confederate deserters led by local farmer Newt Knight hid out in a nearby swamp. Knight shot and killed a confederate major, a “deserter-hunter” by the name of McLemore, who was in pursuit of the rogue gang. It happened while he was in the home of Deason, a loyal confederate who had allowed the major to use the home as an outpost.

Some believe that not only is the ghost of McLemore still on-site, but that Knight, Deason, a few children and various confederate soldiers may haunt the property as well.

Pritchett said the “craziest” thing that ever happened to him as a ghost hunter occurred in that house. “Something” caused him to fall out of his chair. “It just felt like someone grabbed the back of my heel and pulled it,” he said, with conviction that what happened to him was real. Or unreal, depending upon how one sees it.

With him that night was Lacey Stringer. A member of the Tallahala Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, Stringer is among those who manage and maintain the property, passed down to the chapter by descendants of the Deason family. Every year on the Saturday night before Halloween, they hold an open house, where Sons of Confederate Veterans set up camp outside the home, and for a small fee, the curious can explore the home and take in a re-enactment of the home’s infamous murder scene.
“I can honestly tell you, I have seen and heard things in that house I have no explanation for,” said Stringer, of the oldest home standing in Jones County.

Stringer said she and Pritchett were sitting in what’s known as the “murder room” when Pritchett “got pulled out of his chair.” She said just before it happened, four orbs entered the room — what she called “balls of light” — as seen in the infrared video recording made that evening. Stringer said she also has returned home from visiting the house to find unusual scratches on her lower back.
But she isn’t worried that something evil is lurking about. “The general impression is that they are friendly,” she said. “I think they just want the living to know that they’re still there.”

Another place rumored to be swarming in metaphysical uncertainty is not so much a single property as the entire city of Vicksburg.
“Vicksburg is one of the most authentically haunted small towns in America,” said Morgan Gates, who runs Vicksburg Haunted Tours. “Negative energy abounds in this area.”

Haunted Mississippi 6

Gates said he isn’t a ghost hunter, just a story-teller with tales of history and hauntings that chill the spine. According to Gates, the beautiful antebellum river town of Vicksburg roils in suffering. From the Yellow Fever epidemic to the Civil War siege to the everyday duels of old, Vicksburg is awash in lost souls.

The old Sisters of Mercy Convent. The largest Civil War cemetery in the nation. The Duff Green Mansion, which was used as a hospital during the Civil War. The Baer House. There are even rumors about the beautiful Anchuca Mansion, where the brother of confederate president Jefferson Davis is known to have lived and died.

“But without a doubt, the most haunted is the old mansion they call McRaven,” Gates said.

Haunted Mississippi 8Open for tours since 1961, McRaven has been featured in National Geographic as “the time capsule of the South.” The circa 1797 home was used as a field hospital during the siege of Vicksburg. Numerous people have claimed to see ghostly images on the staircases, and a female spirit is said to operate a bedside lamp in the home.

Haunted Mississippi 9

Gates’ 90-minute tour encompasses the Old Courthouse Museum, built in the mid-1800s, and old houses, churches and other buildings that were witness to the nation’s most significant battle. And if that isn’t enough Southern discomfort, Gates also leads tours of Vicksburg’s military park and historic cemetery.

Another spot with a reputation for things unexplained also sits in a river town: King’s Tavern, in Natchez. Built sometime in the late 1700s, the restaurant — formerly a tavern and inn, and later, a post office – is home to one of Mississippi’s spookier tales.
In the 1930s, construction workers tore out a chimney wall, and found the bones of three bodies hidden away: two males and a female. Also secreted away in the cavity was a curious jeweled dagger. Today, it’s believed the female remains are “Madeline,” mistress of the home’s original owner, Richard King. Local lore holds that she was murdered by King’s wife. The other two bodies were never identified, but everyone knows that the mischief is all made by the naughty mistress.

“It’s all based on Madeline,” said owner Regina Charboneau, of the weird incidents rumored to have happened over the years. The oddities witnessed — images in mirrors, sounds of babies crying — have had more of an impact on the employees than they have had on their boss, who bought the historic property just last year.

“They’ve had ghostbusters, ghost adventurers, all sorts of paranormal people come here,” Charboneau said. “I’ve never been a big believer in that stuff.”

That being said, Charboneau does confess to one occurrence that spooked her firsthand. She was preparing to send a text, to tell a contractor she was leaving a door unlocked. Before typing into the text field, she set her phone down, and a few moments later, picked it up to discover that a single word had somehow been typed into the text box, which had been empty a moment before. The word? “Ghost.”

“It kind of rocked me a little bit,” she said, but she still seems to have retained her skeptical eye. She said the tavern will soon begin conducting ghost tours on Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m., because there’s so much interest in the haunted history of the property. “All of my employees have had little experiences,” Charboneau added. “But we think they’re pretty fun-loving ghosts.”
And for doubters, Stringer said she can’t explain the ‘whys’ of her scratched back to the uninitiated. She has no idea what is happening. The only thing she can believe in is her own experience. “One of the paranormal theories is they [spirits] have unfinished business, or because some type of trauma occurred. I really don’t know,” she admitted.

Although his haunted Vicksburg tours have caused people to open their minds about life beyond the grave, Gates said he doesn’t try to convince doubters. “You don’t have to believe in ghosts to enjoy a ghost story,” Gates said.

Pritchett said although his faith lies in what the Bible teaches — that we die and go to heaven — the ghost hunter also said the book leaves room for interpretation. “The King James version uses the word ‘ghost’ 108 times,” he said. “We all have an energy that pushes us forward. Science tells us that energy does not just go away.”

Even if science never conclusively proves what ghost hunters are exploring, these paranormal researchers are documenting something that’s absolutely real in the spiritual lives of those who have seen and heard the unexplained. They’re telling a story as old as time, deep-seated, emotional, and impossible to decipher, despite the aid of newfangled spirit boxes.

Pritchett said the good book also tells of spirits that are at war. If that’s true, then perhaps what he does — interviews conducted with flashlights, netherworld infrared photo shoots — document that inexplicable war. It’s fun to imagine he’s like a contemporary Ernie Pyle, but instead of World War II, he’s recording an ages old — perhaps eons old — battle that plays out daily now among the hand-hewn wainscoting and staircases and columned porticoes of the Mississippi of old.

Want to go?

The Meridian Temple Theater conducts organized haunted tours of the building. For more information, or to book a group tour, contact owner Roger Smith at (214) 938-5656. Special rates for large group tours and tour companies.

Vicksburg Haunted Tours, both walking and driving, are conducted by guide Morgan Gates. Tours and tales of horror, death and haunting can be booked by visiting www.hauntedvicksburg.com or by phoning
(601) 618-6031. Special rates for schools and tour companies.

The Amos Deason Home in Ellisville conducts tours by appointment. For more information, or to book a group tour, phone (601) 477-8646, (601) 763-6925 or (601) 649-3620.

Story By Kara Martinez Bachman
Photography by Marianne Todd, Michael Barrett and Chuck Cook
Courtesy Legends Magazine

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