Category Archives: Dixie Spirits

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 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 quite 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 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 Monaco Hotel, a nice “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 Fall offers 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.  Not a bad deal and maybe Colonel Ellsworth will put in a personal appearance, but don’t hold your breath.

 

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover

Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical definitions served in the front lines throughout the Civil War.  Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life.  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Ambrose Bierce—and America’s—life.

Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical definitions served in the front lines throughout the Civil War.  Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life.  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Ambrose Bierce—and America’s—life.

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

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

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Paranormal Hopkinsville: Case of the Kelly Green Men

Sketches of the little green men the Sutton family saw

Sketches of the little green men the Sutton family saw

In addition to being the home of the Sleeping Prophet, Pennyrile’s Hopkinsville next biggest claim to fame is to being the location of the Great Goblin Encounter, also known as Kelly Green Men Case.  We should note at the outset that the creatures described, while green were not Kelly Green; rather, Kelly was the rural community just outside of Hopkinsville where the close encounter occurred.  Just about everything else about the incident has been disputed ever since.

The incident occurred in 1955 and to this day ranks as one of the best documented—and scariest—close encounters in UFOlogy.  Seven persons from two farm families witnessed the events and their accounts, examined and cross-examined repeatedly over the years, have stood up to withering criticism and scorn and remained remarkably consistent.

Duendes or green goblins, as rendered by artist from folklore, similar to the Kelly aliens.

Duendes or green goblins, as rendered by artist from folklore, similar to the Kelly aliens.

On the evening of August 21, 1955, Billy Ray Taylor of Pennsylvania was visiting the Sutton family in the rural community of Kelly, in Christian County outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  As the house had no indoor plumbing, sournt 7pm Billy Ray went outside to the pump to get some water.  It was at theis point that he observed strange multi-colored lights to the west, which he interpreted as a disc shaped craft of some sort.  He ran into the house all excited and told the gathering he had seen a flying saucer.  The assembled multitude scoffed at his sighting, reassuring him that he must have seen a shooting star or some such.

Then, about an hour later, the group began to hear eerie and unexplained sounds outside.  The Sutton’s dog began barking wildly, as if there were strangers lurking about; then the dog suddenly became terrified and quickly ran under the house, where it remained for the duration.  Billy Ray and the family patriarch, Elmer “Lucky” Sutton, grabbed some guns and went outside to investigate.  There they saw a strange creature coming at them from a line of trees.  When it got within about twenty feet, they let loose a volley, one of which was a twelve gauge and the other a 22 cal. varmint gun.  The creature flipped over and then ran into the darkness; the boys were sure they’d hit it.

Stepping off the porch, they went in search of the creature, when they spied another one sitting on an awning.  Again they fired and knocked it off the roof.  But as before, although they were sure they had scored a direct hit, the being seemed unharmed.  A bit shaken by the encounter, the duo went back into the house.  Then, a few minutes later, Lucky’s brother, J. C. Sutton, saw another creature peering into the house through a window.  J.C. and Solomon, another kin, fired through the window at them, seemingly to no effect.  For the next several hours the little green men played whack a mole with the Taylors and Suttons, popping up at windows and doors, with the two families replying with hot lead.  Whenever they scored a hit, they heard a hollow rattling sound, like banging around in a metal drum.  The creatures also seemed to float off the ground at times, rather than walk.  Finally, the family matriarch, Grandma Lankford, counseled the boys to stop shooting at the creatures; not only did it not seem to have any effect, but the creatures did not seem to mean any harm to the humans.  Because the small children were badly frightened, around 11pm the group made a break from the house and got into their cars, making it to the Hopkinsville Police Department around 11:30pm, where they filed a report.

Police Chief Russell Greenwell, in filing his report, noted that the group were visibly shaken by the experience beyond reason.  The Suttons, he noted, were not folks easily upset and not prone to filing complaints to the police; without weighing in on the accuracy of their account, he concluded that “something frightened them, something beyond their comprehension.”  The witnesses were also judged not to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.

Elsewhere in Christian County, around 11pm a state trooper reported seeing “unusual meteor-like objects” flying overhead, with a sound “like artillery fire” emanating from them. The police officers visiting the Sutton farmstead themselves witnessed the strange lights in the sky and in the nearby woods (although later, some would refuse to talk openly about it).  To their surprise, the officers found that nearby neighbors were also terrified and reported seeing the same strange lights in the sky, and strange sounds, at their homesteads and diners at the local Shady Oaks restaurant, also reported seeing the strange lights in the sky. .

The Hopkinsville police investigated the farmstead that night, found numerous bullet holes and hundreds of spent shells.  They found a luminous patch of unknown substance on one of the fences were a creature had been shot but neglected to collect a same for testing.  In the distance a green light was seen that night.  When the police left around two am, the green men returned and kept poking around the farmhouse until close to dawn.  They were never seen again.

Contemporary newspaper clipping of the Kelly Case.

Contemporary newspaper clipping of the Kelly Case.

In the days and weeks that followed, the incident garnered national publicity and scores of curiosity seekers came visiting, some in awe, many to scoff.  People accused the witnesses of being drunk or of being liars and the usual professional debunkers fabricated their usual explanations to deny what had happened.  While at firs the Suttons freely told the press and others of their experience, eventually the ridicule and criticism by self-anointed experts caused the family to refuse to discuss their encounter.

A 39 foot replica of the flying saucer built for the annual Kelly UFO festival near Hopkinsville, KY.

A 39 foot replica of the flying saucer built for the annual Kelly UFO festival near Hopkinsville, KY.

Apparently military types visited the farm to investigate the close encounter.  The Air Force denies ever visiting the Sutton farmstead, but Project Blue Book listed the case as a hoax without comment.  It is curious that Project Blue Book could make that judgment if, as they say, they never investigated it.  It should be noted, however, that Hopkinsville is not far from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which, while not an Air Force base, is home to the 101st Airborne Division and various Special Operations units; some are known, such as Delta Force, others remain top secret.  What Special Ops units were operating there in 1955 is not known.  In 1957, one Air Force spokesmen theorized that the creatures were just some circus monkeys, painted silver, who’d escaped–which was perhaps the least believable of all the vain attempts to rationalize away the event.

Because of the creatures green color, they began to be referred to as “Goblins” by some in the medai.  Over time the cynics grew tired of their scoffing and the locals began to embrace the incident as part of their local lore.  The 5th annual “Little Green Men” Days Festival was held at Hopkinsville in August, 2015.  The artist’s impressions of these “Green Goblins” is even said to have inspired one of the many Pokeman anime characters.

While people celebrate the event in song and story, to Lucky Sutton and his family it was serious business and remained so for the rest of their lives.  As his daughter related as an adult, “He never cracked a smile when he told the story because it happened to him and there wasn’t nothing funny about it. He got pale and you could see it in his eyes. He was scared to death.”

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South, including the Pennrile Region.

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South, including the Pennrile Region.

For more strange stories of unexplained lights, close encounters and unidentified flying weirdness in the Mid-South and elsewhere in Dixie, see: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits.

A compendium of strange, unexplained and uncanny events and places throughout the South.

A compendium of strange, unexplained and uncanny events and places throughout the South.

Halloween Hauntings, Part 12: The Sleeping Prophet of Hopkinsville

 

I discussed the Bell Witch extensively in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and also a bit more about her and other Tennessee witches in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, so I won’t chew my cud twice on that score—at least not here.  However, if you are visiting Adams to get in touch with ol’ Kate, you might want to keep going to visit another town with a reputation for the uncanny and paranormal: Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

If you take Highway 41 up the road apiece beyond Adams, you will soon cross the Tuck-asee state line and come to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a place equally worthy of note for those who derive joy in being scared out of their wits by paranormal phenomena and other high strangeness.

Hopkinsville, while considerably more urban in character than Adams, is still a quiet town most times and hardly a place one would peg as the epicenter of unexplained events or strangely gifted people.  Yet on both counts Hopkinsville can hold its own with places more famous or more populous.  For one thing, it is the home of Edgar Cayce, world renown as the “Sleeping Prophet.”  Edgar Cayce was an unlikely candidate for notoriety, at least to start with.  Born in 1877, in Beverly, just a stone’s throw south of Hopkinsville and his father would knock him about because he was such a poor student in school.  When he was very young and wandering in the woods he claimed to see “little folk” cavorting about and occasionally spotted his dead grandfather.  He knew grandpa was dead because he could see through him.

By 1910, when this photo was taken, Edgar Cayce had already become nationally famous for his readings.

By 1910, when this photo was taken, Edgar Cayce had already become nationally famous for his readings.

At the age of ten he was taken to church and from that time on diligently began reading the Bible.  Then, at the age of twelve one day an angel appeared to him in a woodland shack as he was doing his daily Bible reading.  The angel told him his prayers would be answered and asked him what he wanted.  Cayce allegedly replied that most of all he wanted to be helpful to others, especially sick children.  On advice of this same mysterious “lady” he found that if he slept on a school textbook, he would absorb all its knowledge while he slept and he soon became an exceptional student.  By 1892 Cayce was giving “readings” in his sleep relating to people’s health issues, although he tried to support himself with a number of day jobs.  Although he never charged for a “reading” at one of his sleep sessions, eventually followers donated enough money to support Cayce that he could concentrate on his readings, which began to expand from health issues in to metaphysics and prophesy.  He moved to Selma, Alabama from 1912 to 1925 and from then to his death in 1945 lived in Virginia Beach, but he was buried in his hometown of Hopkinsville.  Edgar Cayce, unlike many mediums, was not dogmatic about his readings and advised people to accept them only to the extent they benefitted from them; likewise he always advised to test them against real world results.  When awake, Cayce claimed no conscious memory of what he had said or why he said it.  His utterings remain closely studied to this day and some say they have proven remarkably accurate.

New York Times article, dating to 1910, chronicling Edgar Cayce's renown as a healer and psychic.

New York Times article, dating to 1910, chronicling Edgar Cayce’s renown as a healer and psychic.

Hopkinsville is in the heart of the Pennyrile region of southern Kentucky—or Pennyroyal as some more refined folk prefer to call it—and there is available for traveler’s a “Edgar Cayce Cell Phone Tour” of Hopkinsville, while the Pennyroyal Area Museum has devoted a good part of its exhibition space to Cayce and artifacts relating to him.  Hopkinsville, being part of Bell Witch Country, also celebrates the Old Girl in October every year.  There is also the annual Edgar Cayce Hometown Seminar, usually held in March, which celebrates Cayce’s life and readings.

For more about the Tennessee The Bell Witch and Pennyrile oddities, go to Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.  Also see Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee for more weird witchery as well.

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

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

Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For exhibitions on Edgar Cayce, visit:

The Pennyroyal Area Museum                                                                                                                                    217 East 9th Street                                                                                                                                Hopkinsville,  KY  42241                                                                                                               (270) 887-4270

Halloween Hauntings, Part 11: Wicked Witches of Appalachia

A modern take on the traditional witch has her bewitching readers in an entirely different manner

A modern take on the traditional witch has her bewitching readers in an entirely different manner

The late great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from an MGM publicity still ca.1939

The late great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from an MGM publicity still ca.1939

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around Halloween time it is not to see images of alluring females bedecked in black and looking slinky and seductive in a witch’s costume.  That is one modern stereotype; the other is of the ugly cock-eyed old crone with crooked nose and hairy mole leering out with a toothless smile.  Yet another trope is those neo-pagans who enjoy getting nekkid, then dancing widdershins ‘round campfires and having mostly harmless devilry on selected nights of the year. The truth is that no of these stereotypes are true, at least not of real witches—and make no mistake real witches have existed and for aught I know still do—in the mountains of Tennessee.  Of course I have gone into this in much greater depth in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, so for more about all this, you can learn about it there.

popular modern iconography of the witch and her familiars, the owl and the pussycat.

popular modern iconography of the witch and her familiars, the owl and the pussycat.

Of course the curious thing has always been that there were far many folk who would own up to being witch-hunters (also called ‘witch-doctors”) than those who would actually own up to being a genuine witch.  And as I noted before, if they proudly proclaim themselves a witch, the likelihood is they are not.  Still, it was not so long ago in East Tennessee that folks knew very well who in their community was and was not a witch.  And for the most part they were not ugly nor sexy nor any kind of neo-pagan; but they were feared and avoided—and most, most wicked.

Before the creation of Smoky Mountain National Forest, the multi-county region it covered was home to several mountain communities, now no more.  While the area back in the 1930’s was not quite so backward as Yankee journalists who never ever visited there might have proclaimed in their florid prose, but even by the backwards standards of the early twentieth century South, the folk up there were land rich, but dirt poor.  Of course, if you raised your own crops and herds of livestock, there was always food on the table; but as far as modern luxuries went, such as indoor plumbing or electricity, well, that was something city folks enjoyed, not mountain folk.

Up around what is not national forest once lived a lady that was later known as “Witch McGaha.”  It was not her Christian name, but then she was not the church going type anyhow.  One thing that set folk wise to her was that she was continually trying to borrow things.  It was not as though she needed anything; but if a witch can borrow three things from you, then sure as spit she can put you under her spell.  Conversely, Witch McGaha would never, never lend anybody anything, not even to members of her own family.  Many tales are told about her and her powers, but one will suffice for now

One time her sister, Nance, wanted some nice juicy apples from her sister’s orchard; but Witch McGaha would have none of it.  Not one apple would she loan or give.  Nance even got her mother to talk to her older sister to loan her some apples until her orchard came into its own, all to no avail.  So Nance, too willful for her own good, snuck onto her sister’s orchard and started plucking them off the trees and putting them into a large tote sack.  She bit into one and it was red, ripe and oh so juicy, just bursting with sweetness.

Vintage photo of members of a British tea party. Poison apples were served after tea.

Vintage photo of members of a British tea party. Poison apples were served after tea.

When she had picked her full, Nance started off for home, thinking her sister would be none the wiser.  Suddenly she felt a small tug on the helm of her dress; then another and another.  A pack of bushy tailed grey squirrels had formed a ring around her and were giving her angry looks as the insistently tugged on her dress.  She began to walk faster, but even more squirrels appeared.  She broke into a run and dropped the sack but the growing horde of squirrels would not stop.  Now they were scratching and biting and clawing at every part of Nance’s body and no matter how fast she ran they all held on and kept attacking her.  By the time she reached the threshold of her house she was all bloody and her dress in shreds.  Before she could cross the threshold and the safety of home, Nance McGaha keeled over, dead.

A common feature of Appalachian life was the local Wise Woman, a person who had knowledge of herbs but also knew how to conjur spells.  In nineteenth century North Carolina, one such Wise Woman was especially famous, called “Mammy Wise” (actually her name was Weiss) and while not particularly wicked, she was a particularly talented Wise Woman.  She claimed to have “spelt” the Civil War (she always regretted that); but she could also divine who a thief was in the community and was the first person to resort to when it came to cooking up a love potion.  Mammy Wise was respected and honored on that side of the mountains, but no one with any sense ever tried to get on her bad side, for they knew what she could do.

Woodcut of a British witch ca. 1643. Any woman with herbal knowledge or healing skills could be accused of witchery. The real ones likely went unnoticed, practicing their craft in secret.

Woodcut of a British witch ca. 1643. Any woman with herbal knowledge or healing skills could be accused of witchery. The real ones likely went unnoticed, practicing their craft in secret.

There were—are—other Wise Women in the high mountains, although these days they are far more discreet.  Although society may be more tolerant these days of folk who claim to be witches, those with real power are wise enough to say little and mind their own business—especially when their business is the Dark Arts.  For more about Appalachian Witches and their haunts, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

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

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

This latest offering of all things spooky in the South covers the favorite haunts of downtown Nashville and other Country spooks.

This latest offering of all things spooky in the South covers the favorite haunts of downtown Nashville and other Country spooks.

Our First Southern President and the Paranormal

Part 1: Washington’s Prophecy

 "I had seen a vision wherein had been shown to me the birth, progress, and destiny of the United States." George Washington

“I had seen a vision wherein had been shown to me the birth, progress, and destiny of the United States.” George Washington

Let’s see: we have looked at Thomas Jefferson and UFO’s and Abraham Lincoln and just about all things paranormal; let’s look at another Southern president’s supernatural encounters: George Washington.  Since there is quite a bit out there about George and the uncanny, this promises to be a two part-er, at least.

Today we’ll look at the Washington Prophecy, which is as important as it has been underreported.  This obscure incident from the  American Revolution uncannily fore-shadows, not only the American Civil War, but possibly both world wars as well.  For now for more about Washington and the Civil War, see Chapter 16 of Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War.

Let us go back, then, to the winter of 1777, the “year of the three sevens” and the time when the American Revolution almost collapsed.  It was a starving time for Washington’s army at Valley Forge: the troops were ill fed, ill clothed and freezing in their hovels.  The Continental Congress, as Congress does today, did nothing to help.  The well fed politicians were little concerned with those who were fighting and dying at the front; they were very concerned about protecting they and their rich patron’s wealth and privilege and not the Republic.  The troops were starving, barefoot, were not being paid and on the verge of mutiny.  Washington begged and pleaded for blankets, clothing and food, all to no avail; he was in fact on the verge of resigning as commander of the army.  Against this background occurred an uncanny incident which has long been rumored about, but which we have a lone witness to its truth.

During the winter of 1777, General Washington had good cause to pray. It may be that the prophecy was in answer to these prayers

During the winter of 1777, General Washington had good cause to pray. It may be that the prophecy was in answer to these prayers

Our sole source for this incident was a soldier named Anthony Sherman. His account was first published in the 1840’s, in an obscure journal now unobtainable at any price.  Fortunately, his account was reprinted after the Civil War in the National Tribune, a newspaper published for the benefit of Union veterans, mainly to enable them to get pensions from the Federal Government.  As with the VA today, veterans and widows were often frustrated dealing with the government that they had defended, fought, and died or were disabled protecting.  His account, having been told well before the Civil War, gains additional credibility thereby.

Sherman (no relation to the general) was an ordinary soldier, posted to Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge at the time.  One day, General Washington emerged from his private quarters, where he had been alone for some time.  Emerging visibly shaken, he began to relate what he had experienced to a trusted aide (Sherman does not say whom, but it was likely Alexander Hamilton). Sherman was close enough to the two to hear what Washington said, and what the general had to say remained seared into Sherman’s memory.

Washington, alone at the time, was in his office praying.  Now in normal times Washington was not an overly religious.  Washington was a product of the enlightenment, when most educated gentlemen regarded God (if they regarded him at all) as a sort of divine “clock-maker” who wound up the universe and then stood back and watched it move on its own.  However, the winter of 1777-78 was “the time that tries men’s souls” and that winter Washington if fact prayed quite a bit for divine guidance.

Washington's Headquarters, Valley Forge, where he is believed to have had a prophetic vision.

Washington’s Headquarters, Valley Forge, where he is believed to have had a prophetic vision.

Washington was in his office, alone, when he became aware of a presence in the room.  He said it was “a singularly beautiful being,” with whom the general tried to communicate.  After he addressed the figure several times, she finally responded.  The room’s walls seemed to disappear and his surroundings became luminous.

‘Son of the Republic, look and learn,’ she said to Washington, and then spread out her hand in a sweeping gesture several times.  Each time an angelic being dipped water from the ocean and cast it over the continents of Europe, America, Asia and Africa.  On the third such cast “from Africa I saw an ill-omened specter approach our land,” Sherman heard Washington say.  The imagery as reported later was complex; visions of war and destruction, the blasting of trumpets and other scenes which seemed to presage war and ultimate victory.  Clearly, at least part of this version related to the Civil War.

Not surprisingly, ever since this account was first published, there have been professional debunkers ever eager to disprove its veracity. One industrious researcher located the records of a young officer of the Revolution and triumphantly announced the story a fake, because the Anthony Sherman in question had been at Saratoga and not at Valley Forge.  Of course, debunkers always go for pat answers and the fact that there very well may have been more than one soldier named Sherman in service during the American Revolution never entered his closed mind.  Any researcher or genealogist dealing with old records is aware how fragmentary such records often are: muster lists and service records get lost, court house archives burn up in fires and the like.  But the professional debunkers prefer to ignore such realities in their quest to prove their a priori assumptions.

When dealing with prophecy, of course, we are always dealing with a two edged sword.  Prophecies are generally committed to paper years after the events have come true, they often have cryptic symbolism and when based on only one reporter’s account it is easy enough to discount.  In this case, while another version of the prophecy seems to have been previously published well before the war, that original publication, like many early American periodicals, has not survived.  The earliest extant publication is by an erstwhile Philadelphia journalist and dates to the eve of the Civil War, when many such prophecies about the onset of war were in the air.

Even so,  the account as published on the eve of war related to far more than just the onset of the Civil War.  For one thing, “the singularly beautiful being” also says to Washington, ‘Son of the Republic, the end of the century cometh; look and learn.’ If this were just propaganda meant for the northern public on the eve of Civil War, why would it refer to future generations?

Moreover, the beatific being also interprets the visions he has seen thusly: ‘Son of the Republic, what you have seen is thus interpreted. Three great perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful is the third, but in this greatest conflict the whole world united shall not prevail against her.’

While the first conflict she mentions is easily dismissed as the Civil War, the second and third are not. While one can put whatever spin on them one wants, it takes no Nostradamus to interpret the second and third “perils” as the two world wars, and the third conflict in particular as World War II, which was indeed the “greatest conflict” and where indeed for a time it seemed the Axis Powers would take over the “whole world.”  The professional debunkers of this prophecy conveniently leave out these parts of the prophecy, which clearly do not fit their smug theories and which, if they do not “prove” it, certainly give the prophecy much greater credibility to the modern reader.

As to who or what the “singularly beautiful being” may have been, several theories have been put forward.  Some say the apparition was an angel; others say it was the Virgin Mary, who has been known to appear and deliver prophecies in that manner; more recently, the show Ancient Aliens theorized that she was an Alien (of course). However, the 1859 version makes no such assertions, so the reader is left to add their own speculations to the others.

Of course, as with any prophecy, one is free to believe or disbelieve, or to interpret it as one wishes.  However, prophecies, it should be remembered, are not inevitable–they are warnings.  While one can always ignore a warning, it is generally not wise to do so.

For more uncanny tales of the Dixie and the Civil War, go to: Dixie Spirits and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War. The “Angel of Liberty” painting is by artist Jon McNaughton and was also inspired by the Washington Prophecy.  I claim no copyright for it and you can obtain prints of it directly from the artist: Jon McNaughton Fine Art .

Thomas Jefferson and the UFO

Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence and early ufologist.

Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence and early ufologist.

While I normally write on paranormal topics rather than on UFO’s, where they involve a Dixie mystery, I sometimes make a detour to investigate various unexplained aerial phenomena.  For example, in Strange Tales I researched the time one or more UFO’s buzzed the Tennessee Valley at the beginning of the twentieth century (multiple reports of that) and also rare Fortean falls of blood and gore in Tennessee and Kentucky.  In Dixie Spirits I reported on a close encounter in West Virginia that Joe Nichol and his professional cynics have tried to explain away with a unique combination of arrogance and ignorance.  Moreover, down in Pascagoula, Mississippi, I have written about the “singing river” mystery, of which I reported only a fraction of the weirdness known from that area; while I didn’t bring in any theories about alien beings being responsible, others have, citing numerous UFO, USO and close encounters in the area; what the truth behind all that phenomena around Pascagoula may be is still unresolved, but definitely something is, or has been, going on there that defies ordinary scientific explanation.

While there is a certain overlap between paranormal phenomena, cryptozoology and UFO’s, as a rule these are discrete and separate fields of inquiry.  For one thing, most scientists do not take paranormal or supernatural accounts seriously and tend to dismiss them all, either as hoaxes or “delusions of the masses” when they can’t rationalize them away; whereas most scientists take the possibility of extraterrestrial life quite seriously, even if they might not accept the evidence of UFO investigators.  The SETI program is quite well funded and other scientific programs have also been searching the skies for proof of life elsewhere in the universe—even on mars.

So when I learned of Thomas Jefferson’s own interest in unsolved celestial phenomena, it piqued my interest. Jefferson was very much a man of the enlightenment and he kept an open mind to many mysteries that lacked easy answers.  He was one of the first, for example, to recognize that mammoths and mastodons roamed America and it is not generally appreciated that one of the goals of the Lewis and Clarke expedition was to go “looking for the elephant” and see if any still lived in the unexplored western territories at that time.

So we should not be surprised when, in 1800, Jefferson learned of a strange aerial sighting, he was moved to publish a report of it in a scholarly journal.  We are beholden to Thomas J. for an accurate account of one sighting in Louisiana.  Jefferson’s original correspondent was a gentleman planter named William Dunbar, a Scotsman by birth and a naturalist, astronomer, ethnologist and explorer living in Natchez, Mississippi at the time.  In searching the Jefferson Papers, it turns out that one part of Dunbar’s missive to Jefferson survived, on Indian sign language, but not apparently his separate enclosure on the UFO, so we just have Jefferson’s summary of it.  Like Jefferson, however, I will attempt to give an objective account of the sighting without too much speculation.

On night of April 5, 1800, an object was seen pass over Baton Rouge.  It came from the southwest, flying low overhead and moved at an extremely high rate of speed, disappearing out of sight within a quarter of a minute.  Eyewitnesses described it as being “as big as a house” and 70-80 feet long and being only some 200 feet above their heads when it passed.

It was described as being “wholly luminous but not emitting sparks” and Jefferson gives a vivid description of its luminosity: “of a colour resembling the sun near the horizon in a cold frosty evening, which may be called a crimson red.”  When it passed overhead a considerable degree of heat was felt “but no electrical sensation,” by which I take Jefferson to mean that it was not ball lightening or similar phenomena.  Immediately after it passed to the northeast a violent rushing noise was heard, indicating it was passing faster than the speed of sound; apparently the force of its passage bent trees before it and a few seconds later a loud crash was heard, “similar to that of the largest piece of ordinance” and a shock, like an earthquake, was felt as well.

Observers rushed to where the object landed and while the area plant life was burnt to a crisp and the ground much torn up, apparently there was no object found and Jefferson’s description does not indicate an impact crater either.  What was it?  Well, the simple answer would be a meteor of some sort.  But if so, why was no debris from it found.  Curious onlookers swarmed the area apparently, but no follow up report of finding a meteorite or fragments thereof were found.  It was obviously very large and low flying, so one would expect a considerable zone of destruction if it had exploded above the ground, along the lines of the Tunguska explosion in 1909.  Yet apparently that was not the case, since the nearby witnesses lived to tell the tale.  Another curious fact emerges from Jefferson’s report; it sounds as if it were flying almost parallel to the ground; surely most meteors or other space debris would be falling at an acute angle, if not a near vertical angle.

I myself have seen a bright object come down a few years back.  To the best of my knowledge no one else saw or reported it and it made no sound; like Jefferson’s UFO it disappeared within a few seconds.  But it descended at a forty-five degree angle and while luminous it was not close to the ground.  It may have been a small, bright meteorite, for if it been the size of Jefferson’s object it would have been noticed when it impacted.  Of course, we cannot be certain that Jefferson’s object did indeed crash; it may have exploded mid-air and disintegrated into nothingness.  Then too, it may have pulled up at the last moment and climbed up out of its gradual but supersonic descent; but if the latter, it would have to have been a manned craft and not simply some inert rock or fragment of a comet.  This may have been the first such sighting, but apparently it was not the last.  Checking recent accounts, there are evidently quite a few sightings of strange lights and aerial phenomena in the Baton Rouge area, pretty much ongoing, some of which have been recorded by camera or cellphone.

In an article on the University of Chicago website, Penelope, the blogger makes a similar point to mine, only does some interesting calculations:

Distance from impact: 6 km
Projectile diameter: 75 feet
Projectile density:

porous stone: 1500 kg/m3
maybe a bit more if some kind of craft, i.e., a semi-hollow metal object

Impact velocity: 0.6 km/s
Impact angle: 1.9°
Target type: Sedimentary rock

The U. of C. blogger notes that:  “if it was a house-sized object coming in at a meteoric speed, it would have been a huge event, with no survivors for miles, flattened trees, etc.”  They point out that the object which created Arizona’s Meteor Crater would have been about 50 meters in size, or only about twice the size of the object reported by Dunbar.  So, where’s the beef, as it were?

In the end, Jefferson’s report of a UFO leaves more questions than answers.  What was it?  Did it somehow recover from its rapid descent and peel off, leaving only burnt vegetation and blasted ground behind?  Well, the honest answer is we simply don’t know and unless more information surfaces, we must continue to categorize it as an unidentified flying object.

 

William Dunbar was also an early ufologist.

William Dunbar, naturalist, astronomer and explorer, was descended from titled nobility, but settled in Natchez and corresponded with Jefferson and other leading intellectuals of his day.

Sources:

Thomas Jefferson, Transactions, American Philosophical Society, vol. 6 Part 1 (Philadelphia, 1804), p. 25.  Jefferson mentions an illustration, but none of the sources I consulted had it.

The Penelope website at the University of Chicago: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Journals/TAPS/6/Baton_Rouge_Phenomenon*.html

National Archives, Founders online: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-32-02-0037

For more unexplained phenomena, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits.

Abraham Lincoln and Ancient Aliens

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

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

I normally don’t write about UFO’s and Alien sightings, restricting my researches to paranormal phenomena, but I have delved into the subject on occasion as it relates to the South. In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, for example, I investigated the UFO sightings over the Tennessee Valley in the early 1900’s and a “dark day” in Memphis, while in Dixie Spirits I also chronicled a very credible close encounter in West Virginia. Then there are those strange events which may not be supernatural but which certainly defy all attempts at rational explanation, such as rains of blood and gore, aerial showers of snakes and other land going animals, as well as the Mothman enigma, which itself seems to transcend traditional categories. So while I have an abiding interest in UFO’s and the possibility of Aliens visiting our planet, I generally have left those investigations to those with the resources to properly probe them.

via turbosquid

Artist’s conception of a mothership. Did one such ship hover over Memphis, Tennessee in 1904? See Chapter 37 of Strange Tales of the Dark & Bloody Ground.

That is why, when I was contacted by the folks at the Ancient Aliens series on The History Channel to come on their show and discuss my researches on Abraham Lincoln and the paranormal as published in The Paranormal Presidency, I was a bit bewildered how I might fit into their show’s format. Nevertheless, last summer I did an interview with the folks at Ancient Aliens and discussed quite a bit about Lincoln’s beliefs in the paranormal and allied subjects, as well as also discussing Ambrose Bierce, whose Civil War career I have researched extensively, the results of which should be published later this year or early next. Bierce, although known as a cynic, in fact was fascinated by the bizarre, the unexplained and the unusual—in other words, a man after my own heart. As honored as I was to be on their show, however, I wondered how my own expertise would fit into their show’s concept. Well, the wait is over; earlier this month the History Channel aired an episode entitled “Aliens and the Civil War.”

Ambrose Bierce as he looked during the Civil War.  Was his war wound a source of his interests in the bizarre and unexplained?  The Ancient Aliens show thinks so.

Ambrose Bierce as he looked during the Civil War. Was his war wound a source of his interests in the bizarre and unexplained? The Ancient Aliens show thinks so.

First off, I must say they did an excellent job of dovetailing what I had to say about Lincoln with other material relating to Alien contact and the Civil War. As is usual for this show, much of what they have to say is highly speculative; nevertheless, I thought much of what they argued was interesting, making connections between events and phenomena which I had not previously thought related to one another. Besides the Lincoln segment that I was on, they also discussed some other unusual phenomena which I have previously written about in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, although my take on the incidents was different. There was, for example, the vision of Washington at Valley Forge and his later appearance at the Battle of Gettysburg, which I discussed in the Chapter “Behold a Pale Rider”—although their account of Washington’s visitation at Gettysburg differs from my research.

While attending one seance Lincoln was given a "ride" on a piano by, a "physical" medium.

While attending one seance Lincoln was given a “ride” on a piano by, a “physical” medium.

The part of The Paranormal Presidency which they chose to excerpt from my longer interview revolved about Lincoln’s involvement with Spiritualism, in particular with a young psychic named Nettie Colburn—better known under her married name, Nettie Colburn Maynard. Although mainstream historians frequently label Nettie as a “charlatan,” my researches in the archives and other primary sources proved otherwise; likewise, some of the claims of other spiritualists about Lincoln’s involvement have been verified, at least in part. How deeply Lincoln was involved in the movement, however, remains subject to debate, but there is no question that he did attend séances and visit psychics, with and without his wife. That the “spirits” that contacted Lincoln’s psychics and advised the President could possibly be Alien life forms is something I had never thought of, but Ancient Aliens makes a case for these and other psychic encounters being due to the remote telepathic actions of extraterrestrials. Likewise, their tying Ambrose Bierce’s traumatic head would into a possible cause of his being psychically informed by Aliens may seem a stretch, but not totally dissimilar to Lincoln’s own near death experience being the possible cause of his own belief in premonitions and similar paranormal experiences.

Were Aliens in contact with Lincoln through the medium Nettie Colburn? (artist' s conception of an alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy).

Were Aliens in contact with Lincoln through the medium Nettie Colburn? (artist’ s conception of an alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy).

Bear in mind, the Ancient Aliens theories remain highly speculative, but some of the ideas they put forth in the episode “Aliens and the Civil War” are highly original and in some cases I think worthy of further investigation. Traditionally, UFO’s and the belief in Ghosts and the paranormal have been regarded as mutually exclusive. For one thing, most scientists accept the premise that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe; most of them have yet to accept the premise that earth has been visited by them.

In contrast, scientists as a group reject the supernatural or anything that resembles it and most reject any aspect of the paranormal as “delusions of the masses.” However, as theoretical physicists delve deeper into such things as Quantum Mechanics, and posit parallel worlds, alternate realities and similar seemingly incredible scientific theories, some scientists are no longer smugly scoffing at different types of paranormal phenomena, such as remote sensing, precognition, telekinesis and other things hitherto rejected as impossible. The possibility is growing that psychic communication at a distance, or foretelling the future may eventually be found to have a basis in reality, no matter how fantastic they may seem today.

All this reminds me of something that William Herndon, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, once said about Lincoln’s unorthodox beliefs. He said that Lincoln did not so much believe in the supernatural as in the supra-natural; that what we may regard as defying the laws of nature may just be a part of the natural world which we cannot yet comprehend. Have aliens been in contact with us, by psychic or other means? Who is to say; what today may seem fantastic, may yet prove true.

“Aliens and the Civil War” aired on April 10, 2015 but you can see it on the Ancient Aliens Website: http://www.history.com/shows/ancient-aliens/videos/aliens-and-the-civil-war

My latest book, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife is due for release by The University of Tennessee Press later this year or early next.  Look for it at better bookstores everywhere.