It became apparent to me when I stepped into an ankle-deep ice puddle this morning, fall is here. But not the fall that people usually think of. No, this is Huntsville Fall. The kind of wet, cloudy, windy coldness that seems to skip the nice briskness of brightly-colored leaves and blue skies and plunges headfirst into near winter. Despite the fact that Huntsville Fall spells impending doom for skinny people like me, I am happy that it is forcing me to stay inside with a book.
A Spooky Mood
And with Halloween creeping closer, this spooky weather is exactly what you need to get you into the mood for Halloween! I recently spoke with two local authors, Jessica Penot and Jacquelyn Procter Reeves, whose investigations into the paranormal have been chronicled in books they have written about hauntings in the Southeastern area. These lovely ladies gave me a better insight into the paranormal and history of the North Alabama area.
A Ghostly Legend
First up is Jacquelyn Procter Reeves, a founder of the Huntsville Ghost Walk and of Avalon Tours. She is the author of many books about the history of Huntsville, as well as the paranormal activity that accompanies it.
I met Jacque on a particularly dreary day at a local Starbucks, and her warm and friendly demeanor was a stark contrast to the weather outside. On that rainy day she shared with me her passion for history and uncovering secrets of the past.
How long have you been doing the Huntsville Ghost Walk?
We started four years ago, and I’ll tell you some things that I think nobody else knows. My husband and I were driving to Gettysburg five years ago to see the battlefield, and I got a call on the way from someone in Huntsville that asked me if I would put on a ghost tour, a one-time event, for a fundraiser.
He said “Just make a bunch of stuff up, nobody will know the difference.” It just flew all over me! Why would you want to? You just don’t make up history, that’s the cardinal rule.
While we were in Gettysburg we took a ghost walk there, and the tour guide was very flippant and very irreverent and making jokes, and to me its a very sacred place. The last thing you want to do is make light of it.
So on the way back I thought maybe it was time to look into doing a ghost tour. The difference of course is that we used a medium. We ran into a medium a few weeks later and I asked him if he would go around with us to see if he could pick something up, to make it more interesting. And what he found really surprised us since he is not from Huntsville and doesn’t know the history.
Have you had any experiences while you were doing a tour?
Strangely enough, I have not had any personal experiences, but I’ve seen things in the crowd. There was a woman who was pinched on the backside at a house where there was a guy that was drunk and fell off a balcony at a party.
At the Dill House (on the Old Town tour) we’ve had a lot of experiences. Once someone on the tour had taken a photograph of the rest of the crowd, and there was a clear image of somebody who wasn’t on the tour.
People have also had their hair touched. I talk about the ghost of William Fry, a portrait artist from Bavaria that came to America to see American Indians but only got as far as Huntsville. Last year I was giving a tour and there was a man in the crowd with long braids who was clearly an American Indian, and the whole time I was telling William’s story he said somebody was touching his hair.
A lot of mediums take our tours from time to time, and normally they tell me afterward if they’ve seen something to confirm what we talked about on the tour, or to add something new to it. One of the mediums told me that the spirits like the stories we tell of them.
Are there any local places that you go for history or for paranormal activity?
Maple Hill Cemetery. we’ve got some great stories from there. One that blew my mind was a few weeks ago when I was there doing research for another project. I had parked my car there with the Huntsville Ghost Walk sign on it. This man came up to me and asked if I was doing a Ghost Walk for Maple Hill.
I said no, but we started talking and he told me that he walks in the cemetery every day, and among the strange things he sees is a Confederate Colonel that was killed in the Civil War that stands next to his headstone. I asked what he wanted and he said he just wants to be acknowledged. Every day he says good morning to him and continues walking in the cemetery. I asked him to take me to the grave, and it turned out to be my great-great grandfather. We also used to do live programs in the cemetery every year for the Cemetery Stroll at five in the morning, and the monitor that is positioned in front of us has shown orbs and lights behind us, even though nothing is there when I turn around.
I found a lot of things that are new, but there are also a lot of little-known facts that are taken out because of space and time. And in some of these books I was able to find people to interview that could tell me things that weren’t necessarily in the newspaper or in the records.
Things can be found in court documents; which a lot of people don’t know are open to the public. Murder in the Heart of Dixie is a book I did with former District Attorney Fred Simpson. He had all of the research gathered, all of the court documents-capital murder cases from 1900-2000-but he didn’t have time to put them together so I did.
Do you have plans for Halloween?
Taking my son trick-or-treating, it’s always fun taking him around the neighborhood.
You can find Jacque’s books Wicked North Alabama at your favorite local brick and mortar bookstores or your favorite virtual ones. She has penned books under the names Jacquelyn Procter Gray and Jacquelyn Procter Reeves. Or hear her Huntsville ghost stories in person until the end of October on the Huntsville Ghost Walk.
Jessica Penot is a local blogger that chronicles the haunted places she visits through pictures and stories. She is also an author, and has written both fiction and nonfiction about the paranormal.
I met Jessica in a little pizzeria downtown called Sam and Gregs, and one of the first things she asked me is if I had heard about the paranormal activity there. I had not, but rumor has it that a former employee (before the building was a pizzeria) had committed suicide in the building where his presence is still allegedly felt and seen. Her question had surprised me, but I realized after talking to her that her quiet energy and child-like curiosity is what made her such a great writer of the paranormal in the first place.
What got you into blogging and writing about the paranormal?
I actually started because I had a book coming out and I wanted to do some publicity, and it was a horror book so I thought that blogging about ghosts would be good for that. I went to a conference and they told me that all writers had blogs, so I put together a blog and I said that I would commit to it and do one story a day for so many days, and from there it took on a life of its own after that. A couple of months into blogging, History Press contacted me about doing Haunted North Alabama.
My family has an old house in Cheboygan, Michigan, and it’s been in the family for about 150 years and its commonly accepted that it’s haunted. Even people who don’t believe in ghosts end up believing after they spend a few nights there. Strange things happen, but it’s not hostile; it’s just family.
Do you have a favorite experience with the paranormal?
It would probably go back to my family’s house. The last time we were there we had an interesting experience, and it might be my favorite because it was the most recent. The house had eight bedrooms, one of them is blue and one of them is pink. My boys were upstairs playing with a giant life-sized doll that belonged to my aunt.
They were moving the doll between the rooms and torturing each other with it. The doll was creepy and girly so it was special torture for either of them to have the doll in their room. They were screaming and fighting over it, so I went upstairs to stop them, and ended up locking the doll in the attic. As soon as I went back downstairs I heard them screaming again, so I went back up into the pink room to fuss at them. I saw something under the covers when I got to the room. I assumed it was my oldest son because it was moving. When I pulled back the covers, it was the doll.
What is your favorite place to go to?
I love going to Paris. There are so many haunted places with dark histories you could spend a lifetime exploring Paris.
I wanted to visit the Catacombs when we were there visiting family, but it has weird hours so we ended up not being able to go. It is definitely on my to-do list when I eventually go back. I want to visit Huntingdon College and the Tower of London.
What got you into writing fiction and nonfiction?
I’ve always wanted to write fiction. I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else.
What was the inspiration for your works of fiction?
Circe, my horror novel, was inspired by Searcy State Mental Hospital in Mt. Vernon Alabama. My other works of fiction have been inspired by mythology, folklore, and religion.
What was the inspiration for Haunted North Alabama and Haunted Chattanooga?
The amazing haunted histories of these wonderful Southern places!
What are your plans for Halloween?
I am trying to go on The Haunted Hearse tour in Montgomery. I am also planning on going to the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll and Disturbia Haunted House.
You can find Jessica’s fiction and nonfiction books Haunted North Alabama and Haunted Chattanooga at your favorite local brick and mortar bookstores or your favorite virtual ones. She also chronicles the paranormal daily on her blog.
About the Author
Stephanie is a native Huntsvillian in her 20′s and a fan of “oversharing”. She loves finding things to do in Huntsville, and is a fan of chatting up strangers, party planning, and paranormal blogs. In her spare time she watches failed marriage proposals on YouTube. She hopes to know every Huntsvillian’s story one day, but in the meantime she blogs about what she loves to do. She is also the world’s first cynical optimist. Got a cool event you’d like to share? Send her your suggestions and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org