Some odd experiences have made me a wonder about the paranormal.
One of my first ventures into creepiness was years ago at the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. We stopped for maybe an hour, but an hour was long enough. There’s something about a place where thousands have died in a short period that has residual energy. I didn’t see or hear anything odd at Andersonville, but I did feel an oppressive sense of foreboding.
Years later, my family stopped in Gettysburg for the full battlefield tour—the museum, the campfire storytelling, hiring a park ranger drive our car and give a narration. After spending a day in and around Little Round Top, Seminary Ridge and assorted other battle sites, my husband and I agreed that the place was well….creepy. We felt the overwhelming sadness and foreboding. We wondered how it must be to live in the shadow of such epic grief. Some 51,000 human casualties in three days turned the sleepy Pennsylvania town into a slaughterhouse. Most every home and church became a hospital or a morgue, so I can only assume that the ghosts were working on us.
That same kind of creepiness gripped two hiker friends on the Appalachian Trail recently. A friend I’ll call Katty is walking the trail in segments. She and her husband were hiking in Madison County near the Tennessee border when they came upon Shelton Laurel. Venturing along the creek, Katty and her husband suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of gloom. Though neither was aware of the Shelton Laurel story, both hikers sensed that something horrific had happened there.
Later, they read about the execution of 13 starving Union sympathizers in 1863, seven months before Gettysburg. A Confederate regiment tortured and shot both men and boys after a dispute sparked by stolen salt, of all things. The incident was the inspiration for the Ron Rash novel and movie, The World Made Straight.
Katty is still walking the trail off and on, but when it’s time for her to hike the segment leading past the graves of those massacred at Shelton Laurel, she won’t go alone.
Speaking of that Civil War episode reminds me of another encounter with residual energy. In 2009 my husband and I took the John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour, a historic 12-hour bus tour from Ford’s Theatre in Washington to the site of the Garrett Farm near Port Royal, VA, where Booth was killed by a federal officer.
The Escape Route tour included a stop at the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, MD, the home of convicted Lincoln conspirators Mary Surratt and son, John.
The day we visited was unusually warm for early May. I remembered standing in the dining room as I listened to our tour guide when I felt an extremely cold presence in front of me— as if I a refrigerator door had been left open. No one else seemed to notice a dip in temperature. I told myself it was only my imagination.
Not me. As soon as I stepped into the attic, the unfinished space felt as cool as a meat locker.
I have no explanation for the cold spots in the Surratt House Museum, except to say Mary Surratt’s spirit is apparently restless.
Historians question her guilt, and many regard her trial and execution as a travesty of American justice. That may explain why Mary Surratt still visits some of her visitors.
Mary Surratt, convicted Lincoln conspirator.
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5750174