Thursday, October 30, 2014

There's Something Strange in the Neighborhood

 Halloween...a time that most associate with fun, mischief, and trick-or-treating; but for others, it brings a feeling of fear and makes the superstitious take an extra step of precaution.  We all have creepy tales of unexplained happenings; what I have here is just a personal collection with a bit of historical twist.  Form your own opinions, use your best deductive reasoning, but we truly do not know what lies beyond......

 Ever wonder why you may get a creepy feeling or a cold chill when you stand in a particular spot or are visiting a building or home?  Could it be the spirits of the souls still wandering, aimlessly looking for rest in the afterlife?  We don't know what the next plane or afterlife has in store for us; we rely upon our faith to hope for a better and more peaceful beyond in the Christian-based faith, but what if there are those lost souls who don't pass through the realms of beyond?

Location of  a cemetery once located on Coyle Street. From an 1884 map.
At the corner of Slate Avenue and Coyle Street in Owingsville stands the People's Bank.  The large, paved parking lot behind the bank and drive through at one time had homes and yards that most remember in recent times, but many years ago one of Owingsville's first cemeteries sat behind a house near the entrance to the bank's parking lot fence between the parking lot and thrift shop.  Among those who were buried there were members of the Owings family and other early settlers who forged the beginnings of the Owingsville.  In fact, the cemetery is shown on a map dating from 1884, which can be found at  John Richards wrote that the cemetery belonged to Thomas Dye Owings and sat "directly behind the Davis Department Store on Vimont Street, and extended back to a brick house on Coyle Street" and possibly was the location of Richard Menefee's burial.  Vimont Street is the behind the old courthouse and goes from the corner of the 'pocket' to Slate Avenue and is now commonly called South Court Street.  A later Sanborn map of Owingsville from 1908 makes no mention of the burial grounds, but the house still is shown.
My mom had family who lived in the house that once stood facing Coyle Street and says she remembers as a child seeing places in the ground that were sunk in, a tell tale sign of old grave sites.  When my dad helped install water pipes along that area in the 1960's, he recalls digging into graves.  The work crew was sent on down the street to install pipes elsewhere, but dad isn't sure what ever happened to the graves.  It is the assumption that the bodies were removed, possibly by Randolph Richardson and his crew; but regardless, the bodies were still disturbed.  Flash forward to the present era.  My cousin lived in a house on Coyle Street across from the thrift store.  Her son, who was around five at the time, talked about seeing people across the street and talking to them.
The Owings Cemetery was located about where the black Jeep is shown on this present day picture.  Photo courtesy of Google Map.

He said that the people were 'dressed funny' and in old clothes, and that one was a child who liked to talk to him and play in the yard with him.  My cousin always told her son to stop being dramatic and passed it off as imaginary friends that kids are notorious for having (I had three imaginary friends as a child; Pooterbill, Chris and Pie).  I told her I had read something in the John A. Richards A History of Bath County book regarding a cemetery somewhere near where her son had seen the people.  Coincidence, imagination or contact from the other side?  You be the judge, but as a passing note, my little cousin saw an episode of Little House on the Prairie and said the people he saw across the street from his home were dressed the same as the ones on the television.

 If you walk behind the Family Drug Store, down West Paul Lewis Drive in Owingsville, you might feel a cold chill as you start up the grade going toward Cemetery Street, about where Thompson Road turns left to the post office.  Perhaps, its the cool air current coming up from the hollow below, but maybe it's something more sinister.  In this area, on November 4, 1892, Oscar Jones, was publicly hanged for murdering Sharpsburg Town Marshal Taylor Vice.  On Christmas Eve, 1891, Oscar's son, George, was being disorderly and was intoxicated.  Vice came to the Jones residence to ease the tension, but George was belligerent.  The marshal attempted to subdue George Jones, but Jones grabbed a club.  Vice grabbed the club away from Jones, and a fight ensued.  It was testified that Oscar Jones ran up to the pair and fatally stabbed Taylor Vice.  George and Oscar Jones escaped, but Oscar was apprehended the following day in Mount Sterling.
During Jones' incarceration, threats of a lynch mob echoed throughout the area, prompting Jailer Sam Nixon to arm himself and protect his high profile inmate, who consequently was a black man.  On February 21, 1892 a mob wearing masks forced their way into the residence portion of the jail, only to be met by Nixon and his son, Will, with their shotguns at the ready.  The jailer announced that he would defend his prisoner to the death and the mob dispersed.
Oscar Jones was found guilty for the murder of the town marshal and sentenced to death in March, 1892.  His scheduled execution was slated for May 20 in what was called Bascom's Field, located just behind the jail; near where present day West Paul Lewis and Thompson Drive intersect.  The execution was delayed due to an appeal, but the appeal was denied.  The Governor fixed the date of execution for November 4, 1892.
The hanging of Oscar Jones, November 4, 1892
 On the date of Jones' hanging, a large crowd gathered for the spectacle.  Jones was accompanied by Sheriff C.C. Hazelrigg and around thirty guards to the gallows at around 9:30 a.m.  Jones was dressed in all black and wore white gloves as he stood on the gallows scaffold.  After a prayer and a last chew of tobacco, the black hood was placed over Jones' head and the noose was adjusted snug around his neck.  At approximately 10 a.m., the trap door was released and Oscar Jones was hanged for his crime.  Doctors F.P. Gudgell and Robertson pronounced Jones dead at 10:11 a.m.  This was the last legal hanging in Bath County.  Allegedly, Oscar Jones revealed the night prior to his execution that his son George had in fact killed Taylor Vice, and that he would prefer to die than have his son tried and hanged.  So the next time you go on that leisurely walk behind the jail and apartments, that cold chill may be Oscar Jones' spirit wandering toward the gallows that once stood in that area.

I previously wrote about the Civil War in Bath County and the Battle at Mud Lick Springs, and there are tales of ghostly apparitions marching off to battle in that area.  For years, residents in the Mud Lick, Olympian Springs and Carrington areas have said they have seen soldiers walking across the fields and have heard the sound of horses at full gallop in the night.  Sounds of men shouting orders and moans of those wounded are said to be heard in the hills surrounding the area.  People have even reported hearing the sounds of drum beats tapping out the marching cadence, only to fade off into nothing.  Hikers along the trails behind Carrington Rock and the golf course have said they have seen soldiers standing atop the cliffs looking out across the fields as if they are surveying the battlefields below.  Even the muffled sounds of cannon fire have been reported echoing through the hollows and valleys.  Whatever the explanation may be, it is quite possible that there are soldiers still fighting the battle 150 years later.

An orb at Polksville Cemetery, taken by Paige Wagers, 2009
Polksville Cemetery is thought to be one of the creepiest and most haunted places in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  Over the years, people have been coming to the cemetery at night and catching what appear to be orbs in photographs.  Orbs are balls of light that paranormal investigators claim are the energy signatures of spirits.  A skeptic may look at these anomalies as nothing more than dust particles or water droplets, but some of these are quite interesting when looked at closer.  With the advent of digital photography, one can zoom into a picture and see details not originally seen by the naked eye.  One example is a streak of light caught on my niece's camera in the cemetery that just appears to be an orange reflection; but when a closer inspection is made, the light appears to be a demonic figure with wings.  Another picture shows what looks like a misty apparition standing by a tombstone, surrounded by smaller orbs.  Even if you do not have a camera to catch these strange lights, there is still a creepy feeling while walking there at night.  Past the main cemetery is an older burial ground in the trees that features many unmarked graves.  An uneasy feeling is felt as one passes this cemetery, along with cold chills and almost a feeling of disorientation.  Some say it's best to leave the dead to rest, but if the dead don't rest, what is one to do?  And on a legal note...I am told the new owners of the property frown upon trespassers due to the increased popularity of paranormal investigations and property damages that have happened over the years; enter at your own risk, and expect to be asked to leave if prowling there at night.

The Owings House has long been an outstanding landmark in Owingsville.  Built between 1811-1814, the mansion was the home to Owingsville's founding namesake Thomas Dye Owings.  It is a magnificent structure with ornate rooms and a three story self supported spiral staircase; one of the only in the nation still left intact.  Once the mansion was completed, Owings held a housewarming feast for the community and the grand hall was packed with guests.  A large bowl of burgoo was brought out onto the serving table and as Owings stood to present a toast and dip the first platter of the stew, a large black snake fell from a rafter into the burgoo.  Startled guests saw this as an omen and one patron proclaimed that the mansion would be cursed for a hundred years.  Call it coincidence, fate or just plain misfortune, but in 1822, Thomas Dye Owings went bankrupt, one of his daughters committed suicide and another went mad.
The Owings House's spiral staircase
The mansion was sold many times and used as a hotel in other years.  Although it was a popular stopping point and place for social gatherings, the mansion never became truly prosperous.  The Owingsville Banking Company was established in part of the mansion after the fire of 1893 and is still based there today.  Eventually, the other part of the structure went into a level of disrepair, but was remodeled and revitalized in 1901.  There are cellars deep below the Owings House that I have not personally been in, but Tom Byron, Jr. has told me that there is a strange presence in those subterranean chambers, and doors that lead into nothing.  A rumored tunnel is said to lay beneath the cellars and leads to the Bourbon furnace, but to this day, no one has found it.
I recently toured the Owings House  with members of the local cub scout pack and as I topped the spiraling staircase, I felt a strange feeling as if there was something in the room.  There is a long, dark hallway that leads to a door at the top of the stairs that haunts back to the movie The Shining in my opinion.  My wife has an application on her smart phone called Ghost Radar, which allegedly picks up energy levels and deciphers words that are communicated from beyond.  When she used the application in the Owings House, there was a flurry of activity like we hadn't seen before.  Were the spirits of the former residents trying to communicate or is the restless soul of Colonel Owings' daughter still trying to find her way?

There are unexplained occurrences at the Bath County Library, one of which I have personally seen on a security camera.  Employees there have seen items tossed about and have heard strange noises in the hallways and rooms; sounds like foot steps and a sound of shuffling.  While visiting one day last year, I was shown a clip from a security video from the front foyer.  A table of magazines was in the forefront and empty chairs around it.  Suddenly, a magazine opened up as if someone had slipped through the pages as it sat on the one was around this table.
A plastic document holder was fastened to a wall in an upstairs room at the library and security video captured the item being flung off the wall, again, no one was around it.  So what could explain these events?  The library was built after the 1893 fire and at one time housed a bank and shop.  The building we see now was split into two separate buildings, and to my knowledge, was never a scene of bloodshed or tragedy.  However, next door at the present day Perfect Lady Salon building, a man was shot to death in the early 1960's.  The Perfect Lady was at that time a bus stop and restaurant, and Graden Boyd was shot by a man named Gudgell Parks.  It has been told that Parks had been inside the business causing a scene and was told to leave by Boyd.  Parks then brandished a gun and shot Mr. Boyd.  Parks was arrested, tried and sent to prison; sentenced to life with parole.  After an escape, Parks was recaptured and placed back in jail.  Perhaps the happenings in the library are that of Graden Boyd letting people know that he is still around.

For years, the Crouch family resided in the house just inside the gates of the Owingsville Cemetery.  Jaybird and his sons helped maintain the cemetery and even dug many graves while they lived there, so it is no surprise that strange and unexplained sightings have happened there.  One story is that Crouch's wife was doing laundry while her grandchildren sat inside the home watching television.  She stepped outside to hang a load on the clothes line and when she attempted to go back inside, the door was locked.  She knocked, hoping her granddaughter would open the door, but the little girl never came to the back door.  Mrs. Crouch went around to the front door but again, no one came to open the door for her.  Fearing something was wrong, she yelled out at her grandchild to open the door.  Looking in the window, she could see the little girl laughing and acting as if she was hiding.  Finally, Mrs. Crouch got the child's attention and the door was opened.  When asked why she didn't open the door, the child told her grandmother that "the old woman stayed in here with me and told me it would be funny to lock the door."
Entrance to the Owingsville Cemetery
This wasn't the first occurrence of the 'old woman' sighting.  One of the Crouch daughters went upstairs and heard something in a spare room.  When she opened the door, she clearly saw an old woman rocking a baby in the room.  Other people in the house told of seeing a misty apparition of what appeared to be a woman walking down the stairs at night and vanishing at the front door.  Other experiences included someone or something playfully tickling people's toes while they slept or pulling sheets off them.  Footsteps have been heard walking across the wooden plank floors upstairs when everyone else was downstairs watching television or in other rooms.
Inside the cemetery, people have seen shadows or mists in moonlight, and have told about the Confederate Monument; how the statue watches people as they pass or seemingly glows on full moon nights.  Whatever your take is on these events, some cannot be logically explained to this day.

I, too, have had unexplained events happen.  I am one who has to see to believe, but one event still unnerves me after 24 years.  Aside from a select few who I have told, this story hasn't been widely told to anyone until now.  It was late April, 1990, I was a junior at Bath County High School and we had been on a school field trip.  Among us was Kenny Hall, a fellow junior and friend to many of us.  Kenny was in no shape to be out in public due to certain liquid ingestion during the day, so another friend of mine, Janeane Carpenter, agreed to take Kenny home after school.  I vividly recall the moment I heard the scanner alert for the fire department; A car had hit a tree in Midland near the skating rink and was on fire with two people inside it.  I listened to the scanner as fire and rescue personnel worked the horrible scene, not knowing more than I had heard across the airwaves.  I knew that both people were critically burned but still alive, one of them barely.  The phone rang at my house and another friend was hysterical on the other end screaming "it's Kenny!"
When my brother in law got home from working the wreck scene, he was visibly shaken.  I asked if it was Kenny Hall and he told me he thought it was, but he couldn't be sure.  My heart sank because I knew who was with him and I considered them both good friends.
I had gone to see the remains of the vehicle at the towing lot so I could wrap my head around the tragedy and came home with such an empty feeling.  I knew that Kenny and Janeane were still alive but were very critical.  Kenny took the worst of the wreck and have never regained consciousness.  I went to bed the evening of April 26, 1990 at around 11 o'clock.  I had a stereo next to the bed and routinely listened to music until I drifted off to sleep.  The tape I chose was around 45 minutes long and I drifted off.
I was awakened by someone telling me they needed to talk to me.  I opened my eyes and in the pale green glow of the stereo, I could make out a figure standing inside my bedroom door but nothing more.  It was a male voice that told me that Kenny had passed away, then said something else.  I raised up on my elbow and said to wait while I turned off the stereo so I could listen.  The stereo glow faded and I could barely see, but the person told me again that Kenny was gone and continued to talk to me.  After a few minutes, the person left and I went back to sleep, never getting out of bed.  When mom woke me up for school, she told me that she had just learned Kenny had died in the night.  I casually walked by her and said, "yeah I know. You guys told me last night."  I went to the bathroom and she met me in the hallway saying that no one had known until around 6:30 a.m.  I told her I had probably dreamed it, but felt such a calm sense about the whole situation; unlike the despair I felt the day prior.
I didn't think more of it until I went into my room and hit the power button on my stereo.  The tape started exactly where I had turned it off to hear the news!  I felt a cold chill and told mom what happened, how dad or my neighbor Chris had came in and told me what happened, but mom was still telling me they had just found out.  Then I realized that my door hadn't been opened in the night.  I didn't have a lock or anything on my door, so I pushed an old artillery shell against it to secure it.  When my door was opened, the metal shell made a distinct ringing sound that woke me up usually and the door hadn't been disturbed.  Mom had told me that Kenny died around 11:45 p.m., and when I thought about it, the tape I was listening to was 45 minutes long, and I was listening to the last song when I turned it off to hear what the 'person' was telling me.  To this day, I have no idea what else was said, or who it was talking to me, but I knew when I woke up I had lost a friend, and was at peace knowing his suffering was over. 

My parents' house has had other strange incidents such as cabinet doors opening, shadows moving across the room and lights turning on and off by themselves.  The house belonged to my grandparents, and we bought it from my grandmother after she moved to town in 1983.  My grandfather had passed away in 1975, but not at the home.  Soon after moving there, my friend Jason and I were there alone one summer day and both of us saw a shadowy figure standing in the kitchen looking toward us.  We couldn't see who the person was but it scared us so bad, we ran outside and stayed out until that night.  After my grandmother passed away in 1994, mom noticed the kitchen cabinets had started opening and she heard foot steps in the hallway.  One night after I came home from the Army, I was talking to mom and a shadow appeared on the wall and moved across the room toward the kitchen; we both saw it.  There was a lamp in the front room that to this day still powers on and off.  The lamp is antique and belonged to my grandmother and mom acquired after the funeral.  The going joke is that 'Granny Gertie' is at it again whenever the cabinets open or the light comes on or off.  So far, the 'spirit' has been harmless and activity has decreased gradually over the years.

Even my own home on Slate Avenue has had its share of creepy things.  When Mandy and I moved in, there would be times where we heard what sounded like someone working at a work bench.  the home belonged to Mr. Ford Manley, and he indeed used the basement as a work shop. This went on for a while until we got a cat, then the clanging stopped.  Our cat passed away in 2008, and we had decided not to replace him.  After we had our first son, we could hear him talking and laughing while playing in his room, but no one else was there.  One day, he started yelling at a little girl he said he saw in his room.  He told  her to get away and he wasn't going anywhere with her.  We had another cat appear at our house in 2010 and we have had him ever since; and since then, no other strange happenings have occurred in our house.  We have been told that a cat will ward off some types of spirits, so maybe that has been true.  That Ghost Radar application on Mandy's phone, however, still shows alleged words spoken by spirits and shows energy traces they leave in our home.  Whether or not you believe in such things is entirely up to you.  I cannot explain some of the things I have seen, but remain open to all explanations until proven otherwise.

As I have said previously, form your own opinions; draw your own conclusions about the events I have described here.  We are uncertain of what is beyond, yet a fascination of the paranormal envelopes us to be curious and try to see for ourselves what others believe to be true.  An occasional good scare gives us an adrenaline boost and allows us to either feel invincible or vulnerable; to stand and watch or run away screaming.  There are hundreds of more unexplained stories to be shared in Bath County, these were just a few I have had personal acquaintance with.  And the next time a child says they see things we don't, maybe take a second to hear them out and not pass them off as being overly imaginative.  The eyes of the young and innocent can sometimes see far beyond twenty-twenty.

Happy Halloween, folks!

For more reading on strange and unusual happenings, here are some links of interest: -A compilation of cryptozoological sightings based in Kentucky - Stories and tidbits of interest including historical sketches and the unexplained - All kinds of creepy stories throughout the Commonwealth - A group of paranormal researchers based in the Bath/Montgomery Counties

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