THE FIRST CASUALTY: Ellsworth’s Ghost

Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln's and leader of the elite New York "Fire" Zouaves.
Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln’s and leader of the elite New York “Fire” Zouaves.

In Dixie Spirits we investigated the Custis-Lee Mansion, also known as Arlington House, which still stands near Alexandria, Virginia, but we did not explore the many ghosts and haunts of Alexandria proper. Today let’s take a quick look at a famous Civil War ghost down in town.

They say the first casualty of war is the truth.  That may well be true, but in the early days of the war, neither side was much concerned with truth, but more with justifying their own actions, as well as portraying the opposite side as the aggressor.  Regardless, by the time that Lincoln was inaugurated, the time for rational discussion was already over and the Secessionists moved quickly to surround Washington, DC in the weeks following his installation as President.  Lincoln could call for 75,000 troops—but actually organizing, equipping and fielding them to defend the capitol was quite another thing. 

 

The original zouaves were Algerians, recruited by the French to serve in their army. Their elan in battle became legendary and many "zouave" regiments were formed during the Civil War in emulation of them.
The original zouaves were Algerians, recruited by the French to serve in their army. Their elan in battle became legendary and many “zouave” regiments were formed during the Civil War in emulation of them.

      Before the war, volunteer militia units were all the rage in the US.  In the antebellum era it was fun to be a soldier and many volunteer groups donned colorful costumes, learned to drill like real soldiers and above all, attract the ladies with their displays of martial virtue.  Some militia groups developed a reputation for their skill at close order drill and toured the country performing for the public, especially those units who fashioned themselves as zouaves.  The original zouaves had been recruited by the French in Algeria and wore colorful oriental style uniforms, but over the years their ethnic makeup was of less importance than their reputation for élan and aggressiveness. 

Recruiting for a Zouave regiment, NYC in 1861. While considered elite units, the zouaves could also be quite rowdy when not in combat.
Recruiting for a Zouave regiment, NYC in 1861. While considered elite units, the zouaves could also be quite rowdy when not in combat.

One of the more famous such show units was Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth’s Cadet Zouaves, originally based out of Chicago.  Although he was never able to get into West Point, Ellsworth had studied military tactics with a passion and his fencing instructor in Chicago had been an actual French zouave.  Ellsworth was a close personal friend of Lincoln’s and when the call went out for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, Ellsworth wasted no time forming a regiment.  He went to New York City, sent out a call, seeking out firemen in particular, and within an amazingly brief time received more than double the number of volunteers than he needed.  Although rough around the edges and short on discipline, the 11th NY “Fire” Zouaves were shipped south in short order. 

The Marshall House as it looked in 1861. Note the tall flagpole on the roof of the building. Its owner was a brutal slave owner and fire-breathing Secessionist.
The Marshall House as it looked early in the War. Note the tall flagpole on the roof of the building. Its owner was a brutal slave owner and fire-breathing Secessionist.

When, on May 23, Virginia officially seceded from the Union, Ellsworth’s regiment was ordered across the Potomac to secure Alexandria and Arlington Heights on the Virginia side of the river.  While securing the city, Ellsworth noticed that a Rebel flag was still flying over the Marshall House, a local inn.  The flag had been something of a sore point for weeks, being visible from across the river and symbol of Lincoln’s inability to preserve the Union even within the shadow of the capital.  Not willing to allow this act of defiance to go unanswered, Ellsworth personally climbed up to the top of the Marshall House and tore down the offending flag from the large flagpole on the roof.  As he was descending the stairs, however, the hotel owner, one James Jackson, suddenly appeared without warning and shot and killed Ellsworth with a shotgun at close quarters, for which action he was immediately rewarded with his own death at the hands of Ellsworth’s men.  It was still early in the war and the death of a single officer, such as Ellsworth, was still notable news in the North.  Ellsworth being a close associate of Lincoln amplified the importance of his death.  Soon Ellsworth was hailed as a martyr—the first of many—to the cause of preserving the Union.

The murder of Colonel Ellsworth. His ghost was sighted in the Marshall House on repeated occasions over the years.
The murder of Colonel Ellsworth. His ghost was sighted in the Marshall House on repeated occasions over the years.

In the ensuing months and years following his death, rumors began to circulate that, although dead, Colonel Ellsworth was not really gone from the Marshall House.  Some claimed to see him removing the Rebel flag from the rooftop of the hotel, others swore they saw his shade on its stairs, where he was murdered. 

It was also said that the ghost of the fire-breathing Secesh James Jackson also haunted the same stairwell in the old inn.  The Marshall House and its resident ghosts stood on the same spot until the 1950’s, when it was torn down as part of a modernization trend in the city.  Normally, that would be the end of the story, but apparently it is not.

Today the Alexandrian Hotel, a “boutique hotel,” occupies the same space where the old inn stood.  It has all the amenities one expects in a modern hotel, plus one more: it is haunted.  There are those who claim that it is the restless shades of the Civil War who still roam the new hotel.  

Sometimes nothing is actually seen, but people claim to hear the sound of gunshots out in the hallways, as if the Rebel hotel owner and the zouaves who killed him are still having it out in the new building. 

On one occasion recently, a couple was riding the elevator when it unexpectedly opened at the fourth floor; no guests were there but they saw a glowing light appear on the wall opposite, then disappear.  Later, the visitors found they were not alone in having uncanny experiences there.

Some visitors allege the modern hotel on the site of the old Marshall still holds the ghost of Ellsworth and perhaps of his murderer.
Some visitors allege the modern hotel on the site of the old Marshall still holds the ghost of Ellsworth and perhaps of his murderer.

 

 

According to some, it is the Monaco’s sixth floor that is most haunted, which could be a reflection of Ellsworth’s flag taking venture, although the reports are vague on that score.  Regardless, the hotel embraces the site’s haunted heritage and in the past it has offered a “Ghosts of Alexandria Family Package” which includes discounted room rate, a stay on the “haunted sixth” plus tickets for the local ghost tour of the town; check to see whether they still offer that since it has changed management.  

In any case, Alexandria and nearby DC are chock full of Civil War era ghosts and haunts, and who knows maybe Colonel Ellsworth will put in a personal appearance.

 

 

For more Civil War ghosts see: Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and for more on General Lee’s Arlington ghosts, plus other famous Southern ghosts, go to Dixie Spirits.  Happy haunting y’all.

 

Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks
Dixie Spirits: true tales of the Strange and Supernatural south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

 

 

 

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Halloween Hauntings Part 10: BIG ORANGE GHOSTS & HAUNTS

HALLOWEEN HAUNTINGS PART 10: 

GHOSTS & HAUNTS OF BIG ORANGE

 

BIG ORANGE, the school, the team , the legend.
BIG ORANGE, the school, the team , the legend.

As any fool knows, the University of Tennessee is BIG ORANGE.  And what better candidate for a Halloween ghost tale than one all bedecked in orange? In the SEC sports universe, fans of this football team are said to bleed orange and not red. Everything comes to a standstill in Knoxville on game day and supporters will travel eight to ten hours to get a prime spot in the parking lot for tailgaiting.  What even dyed in the jersey UT fans may be unaware of, however, is that UT’s school spirits extends far beyond game day; the school spirits in fact extend far beyond the grave.

Strong Hall, ca. 1950, whose resident spook is Sophie.
Strong Hall, ca. 1950, whose resident spook is Sophie.

Perhaps the best known campus ghost is “Sophie.” Her name in life was Sophania Strong and for years she was a devoted mother, wife and leading light of Knoxville society.  After her death her son donated money to the school to build a woman’s dormitory on the site of the old family manse.  Over the years, successive generations of UT coeds have come to realize that Sophie never quite left the premises.  One room in Strong Hall was so filled with psychic activity that it came to be called “Sophie’s Room” and it was rare that its mortal resident lasted out the semester there before moving out.  While the coeds now are gone from the old building, Sophie is not.

Hoskins Library, home to "Evening Primrose" a playful ghost fond of cornbread.
Hoskins Library, home to “Evening Primrose” a playful ghost fond of cornbread.

Then there is the old Hoskins Library, whose resident spook is called “Evening Primrose.” Who or what she may be is unknown, but the elevators seem to travel without any human agency, books unshelve themselves and the smell of fresh baked cornbread will at times waft through its halls.

Far more frightening, and definitely high on the creep meter, is “The Hill.” An eminence on campus.  On a given night one might encounter an elegant gent strolling about the Hill.  While at a glance he seems normal, his bowler hat and antique garb seem oddly out of place.  When you pass close by he may even tip his hat—at which point one will see the gaping hole in his head.

The Hill, where the spirits of the dead are more numerous than Big Orange fans on game day.
The Hill, where the spirits of the dead are more numerous than Big Orange fans on game day.

There is a more sinister spirit which haunts the Hill, a large black dog with eyes like coals and long sharp fangs that emits a howl that sounds like the cry of a lost soul from Hell. Whether it is in fact is a Hound from Hell or ghost of a family pet, he is definitely not a dog you want to take home to the kids.

Union soldiers killed defending Fort Sanders are also thought to haunt The Hill and adjacent buildings and their presence further adds to the strong supernatural aura that shrouds this old part of the campus.

There are more ghosts that haunt the campus of UT Knoxville—many, many more. For an in depth look of the spooks of Big Orange, however, read Chapter 1 of Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

GHT Halloween Meme
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee: True Tales of the Supernatural.

 

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Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South

 

 

 

Staring at the Backside of the Beyond

What is Behind the Beyond?

Let’s take a break, if we may, from trampling through decaying mansions in search of restless spirits, rotting swamps filled with things not quite dead, yet not really alive, graveyards that give one the heebie -jeebies even in broad daylight and morbid mountain hollows where ancient curses still have power to bewitch the unwary passerby, and reflect on the state of the OTHER SIDE in this day and age.

First, while I firmly believe there are many paranormal phenomena which science cannot explain, and I continue to collect accounts of uncanny events and weird doings, I have begun to believe that our collective quest to explore THE UNEXPLAINED may have gone a bit too far. Or rather, that the innate human curiosity to seek answers to the mysteries of the universe that motivates most of us, has been hijacked by many who are only interested in exploiting what has gone from an esoteric endeavor to become a popular pastime and cash in on it by any means possible.

The explosion in “professional” ghost hunting in particular I find a bit much.  There are all manner of self-anointed experts these days who conduct very expensive classes in ghost-hunting, “cleansing” or various and sundry other paranormal practices. It is all well and good to go to sites that have a reputation for being haunted and investigate them for yourself or even to help calm folk uncomfortable with the possibility that they are not alone in the old home.

But bringing along truckloads of seemingly high-tech paraphernalia and putting on airs of being “scientific” is not any more valid qualitatively than someone who investigates a site by their “gut feeling.” Sometimes one can divine the truth by what seems to be an entirely subjective and undocumented experience. And one person’s authentic paranormal experience may not be able to be duplicated no matter how many tri-quarter readings you take.

As Shakespeare phrased it, “by the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”

Please don’t put me in the category of the professional debunkers who, while pretending to investigate paranormal incidents objectively in reality approach every occurrence with the same closed mind, and simply seek to validate their predetermined opinions and present it as “proof” that it is all bunkum. I have read  some ghost hunting groups’ accounts that I personally find quite impressive; but I also know that insofar as the scientific community goes, their evidence will not convince any academic investigator.

The flurry of paranormal Cable TV shows in particular yank my chain.  Some, admittedly, are worse than others; a bunch of idiots running around an abandoned sanitarium with flashlights attached to their faces and scaring themselves is not only a waste of time, it’s just plain silly.

Likewise some dude on tv daring a spirit to “come out come out wherever you are” is  an exercise in the moronic. Moreover, if they are treading on territory where they are dealing, not with the deceased, but with the demonic, they may even stir up something they are unprepared to handle. Genuine cases of demonic possession are very, very rare–fortunately–but they do exist and, as the saying goes, don’t go kicking a nest of hornets unless you want to get stung.

The latest scam is some of these celebrity ghost-busters offering–for money–certification to people as ghost hunters.  Of course, if any of these media mediums read this criticism, I doubt they will be much dismayed–they are crying all the way to the bank as I speak.

Of course, charlatans exploiting a popular movement relating to the paranormal is nothing new.  In my book, The Paranormal Presidency, I document the birth of Spiritualism and the story of its suppressed relationship with President Abraham Lincoln.


PP LINCOLN 01
President Lincoln was one of the many prominent men of his day who attended séances; he also believed in prophecy and other psychic phenomena

In the book I tried to maintain a certain objectivity about this subject. The truth is that, at that time and since, there have been many sincere people involved in Spiritualism, psychics, medium-ship, and also those involved in partaking in seances. In some instances these earnest explorers of the beyond may even have had genuine psychic experiences.

Hall 1
Abraham Lincoln attended one séance where–allegedly–a young female medium was able to make the grand piano “dance.” Did it happen? Two eyewitnesses claimed it did and swear there was no trickery involved. Psycho-kinesis is rare, but real. 

But the truth is that there has also been a chronic problem with phonies and fakes who pretended to be psychic and have bilked gullible people over and over again over the years.  Moreover, with the advent of cable TV these charlatans have gotten a mass media following.

Unlike the professional debunkers, the Joe Nickols of the world, I refuse to throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater.  Paranormal phenomena are real; I know of many people who have genuine experiences, even if only once in their lifetime.  Similarly, I have met a few people whom I believe to be genuinely psychic. I think that everyone has that potential, at the very least.

But there are also those only too willing to exploit popular interest in the subject for a fast buck.  The truth is, that some people want to tell us what is behind the beyond, when they don’t even know what is beyond their behind!

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency is a biographical analysis of President Lincoln’s beliefs about the paranormal and his involvement with Spiritualism, as well as prophecy, omens and voodoo.

Abraham Lincoln and the Supernatural:

Lincoln and the Dancing Piano
While attending a sance at the Laurie’s Lincoln was given a “ride” on their piano by their adopted daughter, a “physical” medium.

In  The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, (Schiffer Press) I document Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and practices regarding the supernatural. While Lincoln’s fascination with the paranormal has pretty much been known for over 150 years, but before my new book, no one had taken a serious look at the evidence.

To be sure, popular Lincoln biographers like Carl Sandburg and Jim Bishop have occasionally mentioned one incident or another about Lincoln and the paranormal. But these anecdotes were largely thrown in to enliven the narrative and rarely taken seriously.

PP LINCOLN 02
Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war.

One issue The Paranormal Presidency does not tackle is whether Abraham Lincoln was actually psychic or not. This tome is a work of serious history and, while I document what Lincoln and his contemporaries believed and did, the issue of whether he was psychic per se is not dealt with. That is outside of the realm of history.

What we can say is that from early youth Lincoln had a firm belief in things we would call supernatural. Prophetic dreams, visions, omens and signs, and other uncanny events were all part and parcel of Lincoln’s life and career. But did he actually have psychic gifts?

17 1865 Broadsheet blaming war on Spiritualism via Am Memory
Many blamed the outbreak of Civil War on Lincoln’s and other politicians’ fascination with Spiritualism.

While many of the incidents surrounding Lincoln and the paranormal may easily be dismissed as either superstition or folklore, nevertheless, there is a hard core of well documented incidents where Lincoln seems to have had genuine foreknowledge of coming events—even of his own death.

 

For more on Lincoln and contemporary beliefs about the supernatural, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln documents the spiritual and supernatural beliefs of Abraham Lincoln and his experiences with presentiments, omens, visions and prophetic dreams, as well as his involvement with Spiritualism and how these beliefs influenced the conduct of the war.

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.