Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cemeteries of Georgia

First off, Happy Halloween everyone! In honor of this, one of my favorite holidays, I am going to share some pictures and history on some of my favorite creepy places…cemeteries!

At first, to admit that you really like cemeteries can seem a little morbid, but when considering the history you can learn by simply reading tombstones and the artistic value of the statues and monuments that grace the burial grounds, it becomes perfectly understandable why cemeteries are so intriguing. And yes, they are still a little bit creepy.

Three of the most intriguing cemeteries I have ever visited are right here in Georgia. Colonial Park and Bonaventure Cemeteries are located in Savannah and Historic Oakland Cemetery is located in downtown Atlanta. Since I am way into photography and history, I want to share some of my pictures and interesting facts that I have uncovered about these places.

This is the gate to Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah. Inscribed above the entrance are the letters D.A.R. for the Daughters of the American Revolution, who erected this memorial in 1913. This is the oldest cemetery in Savannah, opening in 1750, and was the primary burial ground for 103 years until it became too crowded and the beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery was established. There are over 11,000 bodies buried here, but only 600 markers are still standing in the graveyard. You are literally walking all over the graves when you enter the gates. The disappearance of these headstones has partially to do with hand of time, but a good number fell victim to vandalism by both British soldiers and Union troops as they occupied the city during Savannah’s times of war.

Along the back wall of the cemetery are a line of broken or misplaced headstones that indicate the handiwork of Union troops as their camp occupied the cemetery. A fine example of “leaving their mark” is the revised dates on many of the tombstones. One member of Colonial Park died at the young age of 11 and left behind his bride of 17 and son of age 12 according to the revision. And one man lived to be 1700 years old according to his tombstone. Also along the wall of removed tombstones are some very interesting, unaltered epitaphs such as the story of one young man from Philadelphia who was simply walking through the streets of Savannah when he was suddenly attacked and killed by pirates.

Among those who make this cemetery their home are many Revolutionary War heroes and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. But this is not the resting place of merely war heroes and statesmen but also of notorious duelers, and your average joes who were victims of the Great Fire of 1820 and a Yellow Fever epidemic that killed 1 out of every 10 Savannahian.

But the one thing about the cemetery that is most interesting to me are the old brick vaults that you will see scattered among the grounds. They would appear to be New Orleans style above-ground burials. However, they are not. On one side of the vault you will notice a sealed-up former archway entrance. Inside the archway, many years ago, you would have found stairways that led down into the vault. At the bottom of the stairs you would have found 3 shelves on either side of the room lined with either coffins or shrouded bodies. In the center of the room there would have stood a large urn. The urn was to hold the bones of the older corpses as the shelves became overcrowded with new burials. Ewww. That’s just a little creepy to me.

I wish that I had more (and better) photos of this cemetery to share, but while visiting Savannah, I rarely make it into this cemetery before the gates lock up at the too-early time of 5:00 p.m. We can thank the participants of a suspected gruesome voodoo ceremony complete with a sacrificed goat found in 1999 for the cemetery’s early closure.

I do, however, have many photos of the beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery that replaced Colonial Park as the prime burial ground. It is still an active cemetery today. It is the final resting place of a famous American author and Pulitzer Prize winner, Conrad Aiken, and the resting place of Johnny Mercer, known as one of the greatest American songwriters of our time.

Bonaventure was made famous by John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and by the movie of the same title starring Kevin Spacey. The statue on the book’s cover known as the “bird girl” drew so much attention that it was removed from the cemetery and placed in the Telfair Museum to protect it from vandalism.

This cemetery, with the Spanish moss-draped oaks, gorgeous statues and monuments, and the Wilmington River as a backdrop is lovely year round, but particularly beautiful in the spring when the azaleas are in full bloom, as you can see in this photo. It could rival any botanical garden, in my opinion, in beauty. I took this photo in early April, 2004.

Meet little Gracie Watson. The statue sitting above her grave sculpted in her likeness is the most visited one in the whole cemetery. The Watson family owned and ran the Puluski Hotel in the 1880's and their little daughter Gracie was a huge hit with the hotel's guests. She was so well loved that a sculptor who had been a guest at the hotel sculpted this likeness of her to be placed on her grave when he found out that the beloved seven-year-old Gracie died of pneumonia. I think Gracie is still just as popular today as she had been in 1889, when she passed away.

I took this photo using a soft focus filter on a bright summer day to give it that "foggy" look.

This statue happens to be my personal favorite, however. The blank stare of this woman is both creepy and sad. It sits in the Lawton family plot along the Wilmington River. The name on the marker is Corrine Lawton.

I took this black and white photo using a fog filter to soften it up and give it a "classic" look. I have so many pictures of this one statue, but this is one of my favorites.

And so now, I'll show you a cemetery much closer to my home. This is Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. It is the final resting place for many famous Georgians. Some of the most notable are: Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind, the golfing great Bobby Jones(whose golf ball-covered grave cannot be mistaken for anyone else's), Joseph Jacobs, the pharmacist who introduced us to Coca-Cola (God bless you, Mr. Jacobs!), and Maynard Jackson, the first African-American mayor of Atlanta.

There are so many statues that I would like to share photos of such as "The Lion of Atlanta" that was erected to honor the unknown Confederate Dead. This lion lies on its side across the Confederate flag with the most pained look of anguish upon its face and it is heart wrenching to look at it for very long--a very appropriate statement to make for any unknown dead that gave their life in vain for what they believed in without any glory or any recognition at all. There is another often photographed statue of a mother and daughter sitting side by side in front of intricately designed Celtic Cross. It is a glowing example of the Victorian period.

One that I must share is this picture on the left. I think it is the creepiest one in the cemetery. This poor woman lost her head, arms, and one leg somehow. I am not sure whether this happened at the hands of vandals or the hands of time and weather, but it is most definitely creepy-looking. Notice how the one leg she stands on has become stained over time and is nearly flesh colored.

And this photo is my favorite Oakland shot. I did not use any special filters at all to capture this. I was just lucky enough to photograph this image during the time of day that photographers refer to as the "golden hour", just before sunset. The last rays of dying winter sunlight had briefly illuminated the angel with golden light and I got it just in time.

So I guess this concludes my Cemeteries of Georgia Tour. I may not be a live tour guide, but I will still accept tips. ;)

I hope everyone has a wonderful Halloween!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Another great fall weekend...

It was quite a rainy night in Georgia this past Friday. I was really wondering if the weather would clear at all this weekend and I was beginning to feel disappointed before the weekend ever began. I had hoped to go on a nice hike in the northwest mountains and to have some Halloween fun somewhere along the way.

On Saturday morning, I woke up to a beautiful surprise of blue skies and an itching to do something fun. After a little shopping spree with Best Friend in which I bought some really nice clothes and totally hot boots, we met up with another friend of ours, just after dark, at the gates of the historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta for one of the Halloween tours. I am planning on posting more on this and other awesome cemeteries on Halloween, so I will just sum this up for now.

I had gone to a twilight Halloween tour at Oakland a couple of years ago and was totally disappointed. This time I was not. There were no ghastly ghost stories of any hauntings in Oakland Cemetery again this year (which was the reason for disappointment on the previous tour). Since Oakland is still an active cemetery with burials, the ghost stories were kept quiet out of respect, though is reputed to be haunted. However, this year’s tour was really awesome because as you walked along the brick paths in total darkness with your own flashlights as your only light source, you came upon family mausoleums that had been opened up and waiting to greet you were actors with candle lanterns dressed and acting in character of one of the family members entombed in the crypts. They told you the story of their lives and deaths. It was very interesting for me, being such a history lover, to learn the stories of the prominent Atlantans that changed and made our city what it is today. It wasn’t scary, but I have to admit that the opened mausoleums were a little creepy to me, as this type of burial and any other above-ground burials (especially those like in New Orleans) freak me out. Ewww.

After our tour, we left the cemetery to eat at the restaurant right across the street appropriately named Six Feet Under. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s nice inside and is very popular. The crab cakes are phenomenal, by the way.

I came home late and tried to get some sleep. Best Friend and I had planned on taking our hike the next day and we did. And lucky us, we had the most beautiful, cloudless day for our hike.

We started out bright and early for Cloudland Canyon, which isn’t far from either the Tennessee or Alabama state lines. The drive was scenic along the winding mountain roads to the canyon. I knew this was the peak weekend for fall color, but the colors were so vivid that I was actually surprised. Some of the reds and oranges were so bright that it looked unreal against the deep blue sky.

This is a view from the west rim of the canyon. I love the exposed rock and steep cliffs here. If you descend many steep stairs, you can reach the canyon floor. It can be murder on your thighs and calves, but the two spectacular waterfalls waiting at the bottom for you is well worth it. Coming back up the stairs will again make you question whether or not the falls were worth it. Then you take a look on your digital camera screen and answer yes.

This is the first of the waterfalls, which is my favorite. The water was not flowing as much as I have seen it in the past, but it was still beautiful. The deep, cold pool of water at the base of the falls is a greenish-blue hue. I also like all of the boulders around the pool and in the stream. At least I like them right now in the cooler weather as I am not as worried about them harboring nasty little slithery reptiles. Last summer, I had an encounter here with one. By the scream I released from the top of my lungs, you would have thought I found an Anaconda rather than the six inch long water snake that was almost as afraid of me as I was of it...almost.

This tree was the reddest, brightest tree I have ever seen in my life! It clung to the cliff of the east rim of the canyon. Every person that came by this tree on the trail, stopped and stared at it in wonder. One little girl pulled on her dad's arm and exclaimed, "Look Daddy! That tree is like fire!" Just as I was thinking of how awesome it would be to have a romantic picnic in this spot a cutesy couple plopped down in front of the tree and cuddled up and posed for a picture. I rolled my eyes at Best Friend and let out a sigh. Next year it will be me with my man, damn it!

More fiery color in a Maple. I think my favorite fall leaves are the Maples. They stand out among the more dominant yellow Poplars. I also love the orange of the Sassafrass.

This is another view taken along the east rim as we headed back down into the canyon to cross the creek and the ascend the west rim. We hiked a total of just under 7 miles today. Sure, we've hiked much farther than that in the past, but there was a lot of up and down on this trail. We worked up quite an appetite. After we returned to Atlanta, we fed our appetite at where else than the Vortex!?!

Hey, cast ye no stones! I earned that burger! Did I happen to mention that those stairs were very strenuous?

So here Best Friend and I are, relaxing in the perfect picnic spot. She's not a romantic man, but I guess her company will do until I find my man and bring him here next year. (sigh)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I met a blogger...

So I had a very pleasant surprise and a doubly great night last night. First off, but not foremost, I ate at the Vortex again. It is a total sickness, I know. (For any questions, please refer to my last post, in which I confessed my addiction to this place.) BUT, at least this time I had a real excuse to eat there.

So on to the more significant pleasantry of the evening... I met one of our fellow bloggers, Yrautca, while he was here in Atlanta to visit family!

You see, Yrautca and I tried to meet up once before for coffee this summer while I was visiting his now-home of Seattle. Things didn't go as planned and it unfortunately didn't happen. He called me while Best Friend and I were at the top of the Space Needle and I spent the majority of our brief conversation yelling into my cell phone over the noise of a crowd of people pushing and shoving into me, "
What?! I can't hear you! What did you say? I am about to leave for the airport! What? I can't hear you!"

So this time when we spoke, we had a real conversation. When he asked for suggestions on places we could meet up, I heard my voice reply against my own will, "So, do you know where Little Five Points is? Well, there's this great little place called the Vortex..." (Yeah, I hate myself. I am totally on my way to Fatsville if I don't stop this madness! haha.)

An hour later, we met face-to-face for the first time. Did he look the way I had him pictured in my mind? Well, sort of...minus the Kenneth Cole business suit. (Yeah, sorry Y., I had you pegged as the all-business type. ) He's still a nice dresser, though. And yes, ladies, he's handsome, too.

So what else can I tell you about the real Yrautca? Having him pegged as the all-business type, I expected him to be pretty serious. That is not the case at all. He is actually quite hilarious and we spent our whole time together laughing and joking around. I had a blast. I was also surprised to find out that we had more in common than I had originally thought. And as a plus, I think he may have actually liked my little eclectic restaurant, too. Though, he was a much healthier eater than me, he didn't seem to mind that I was a total pig and stuffed my face with a huge burger and washed it down with beer. (What an impression I must have made! Ha ha) Someone that can accept me for me...awww, how sweet!

One more thing I have to say about him...He is one of the nicest guys I have ever met and quite the gentleman, too. Not only did he buy my dinner (even though I am the one that suggested meeting at this place), but he opened all the doors for me. It's not an every day occurrence in today's world for a man to be so respectful and gentlemanly.

I am very happy that we had the chance to meet. Not only did we get to enjoy the "fine art" mural on the wall and learn interesting facts about King Ludwig the Crazy via a beer menu, but we became 3D friends in the process. It's too bad that we live about 2,500 miles away, Yrautca, or I'd totally force you to be my hiking partner. (I know it sounds a little bossy, but you'd love it. Don't lie. You know you would. ;)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Oktoberfest and Other Fall Fun

Saturday was such a beautiful day that there was no way anyone could have held me indoors!

I called up my germaphobic friend and asked her if she would like to take a ride up to the mountains with me along the meadering scenic by-way and through the fall foliage. After a promise to stop afterwards in the little Alpine-style village of Helen for Oktoberfest, she was ready to come along for the ride.

It was such a beautiful day full of sunshine and brilliant autumn colors. And despite the rain deficit Georgia has been suffering, the waterfalls still flowed along beautifully. I am not, by any means, new to the scenic by-way we traveled. In fact, this route is one I regularly take to clear my head and sort my thoughts year round. Some of the trails I love to hike, including the Appalachian Trail, are right along this path. Usually I am alone when I head northeast of my home in the city to take make this drive, but I have to say that it was something special to have a friend along with me on this day. It was too beautiful to not share with someone else.

So this is a picture from the by-way of my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains
of Georgia. The golden autumn colors are really spectacular right now. The high peak in the distant right hand corner is Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest.

Brasstown may not look that much higher than all the rest, but from the observation tower on her peak, you can see out forever into North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and even the skyscrapers of Atlanta on a clear (miraculous), smogless day. It seems like mountain ridges after mountains ridges roll into oblivion. The view is fantastic from here. I could only imagine how it looked on this day as the usual blue hue of mountains glowed with firey color.

We made a stop by one of my favorite falls. This is upper Helton Creek Falls. The lower falls plummet down a rock slide just below where I was standing when I took this picture. I think it is amazing how summery it still looks here. One of my favorite things about these mountains is the fact that the forests remain forever green, even into winter. The hemlocks, mountain laurel, Christmas Ferns, pines, and mosses remain green year round, even surviving the snow and ice.

After our drive, we joined the fun in Helen. This photo is a warning as to why not all wanna-be Germans should openly drink mugs of beer in public at a wanna-be Oktoberfest in a wanna-be Bavarian village. Yes folks, this lady is actually attempting the Chicken Dance with a mug in her hand! That was entertaining, but not quite as entertaining as watching all these people spin around arm-in-arm sloshing one another with beer and continuing to chant up the band for Free Bird. I am poking fun now, but damn I wanted to join in! Except I would have liked to have balanced my Wurst Haus beer mug to something cooler than Lynard Skynard...you know, something more like Bocephus. That'd be some real redneck...err, I meant to say...that'd be some real German wanna-be fun!

I did want to get a cool mug to take home. Instead of getting one at the Wurst Haus, we thought we'd get a cooler one if we went to the Troll Tavern. I liked the idea of a Troll mug just because I like the tavern's slogan of "We're by the river, under the bridge" and because it really is under the bridge (you know, where all trolls live). But I was disappointed that the mug didn't mention at all that they were under the bridge and instead only has a picture of a troll on it that rather favors an elf more than a troll! In other words, I suffered an expensive, dark German beer to get a mug that mentioned under the bridge for nothing! I have a mind to go back and tell them that they aren't technically under the bridge anyway... more like below it and to the side of it. I took this pic. from the bridge that they are supposedly under, nonetheless.

And last, but certainly not least...this is where I went on Sunday with Best Friend. This place is called The Vortex and is located in the eclectic Little Five Points in Atlanta. You cannot find a better burger than a Vortex burger. I kid you not, I am addicted to this place. I am usually a veggie and chicken type of girl, but this place brings out the cavewoman in me and leaves me screaming, "Meat! I need meat! More meat!" But it's cool for now. My excuse for coming here so often this month has been "to keep within the spirit of Halloween". Seriously, can you think of a better place to honor Halloween than eating within a skull with psychedelic eyes? What will my reasoning be behind eating here every other day in November??? Well, November's my birthday month and I'll eat there if I want to! So leave me alone!

Stay tuned...more creepy tales to follow this week.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ghostly Gettysburg

So I had this plan to share some of my ghostly experiences with y’all but have been so busy that it’s scary. (Way more scary than any of my ghost stories). Too much to do and not enough time in the day to do it all. That’s been the case with me lately.

But today is Friday the 13th, the perfect day for sharing something scary, so I am making and taking the time out to tell another tale…

This is a tale from Gettysburg, Pa., sight of the most infamous battle in the American Civil War. More men died tragically and dramatically on this land within that 3 day period in 1863 than on any other American soil. The town of Gettysburg is known to be one of the—if not the—most haunted places in the United States.

My first trip there was a trip taken with my family in the summer of 1996. I fell in love with the town. To be there was almost like stepping back in time. To walk down the streets past buildings riddled with musket shots and through the hotel where President Lincoln stayed while giving this well-known speech, The Gettysburg Address, was an experience in itself, but to walk on that battlefield--that hallowed ground--was unrivaled.

I have to say that there was no paranormal happenings to report on this particular trip. There were times when I felt like I could hardly breathe and there was this one incident where my brother and I took a walk up to Little Round Top and I felt like running back down the hill to the car. This I credit to simply knowing what happened here and how at least every other step I took must have been across a dead man’s path.

My friend Red and I are ghost hunters. No, we’re not famous like T.A.P.S., but we have been seeking the spooks long before they have. One night during our weekly girls’ night out, we decided that we should go to Gettysburg for ghost hunting. We were sure to have an experience there…especially if we went on July 1, 2, & 3, the anniversary of the battle!

A few months later, on July 1, 2001, my little car pulled into Gettysburg National Battlefield with myself and two of my best friends, Red and S on board. It took 12 hours to get there and we were thrilled by the time we set up our campsite. (Of course, we camped! What could be spookier than sleeping in a tent by a haunted battlefield??) We took off immediately to discover all the haunted areas that we had studied up on. However, we had nothing too out of ordinary happen until the next night.

There is a place on the battlefield known as the Devil’s Den. It is an area at the edge of a triangular shaped field and strewn with huge boulders perfect for hiding, especially if you were a sharpshooter. Devil’s Den lies at the bottom of a high ground known as Little Round Top. Both the Union and Confederate Troops recognized the advantage of claiming the high grounds of Little Round Top and fought bitterly for it until eventually the Union Army occupied the large hill. The fight for Devil’s Den was just as nasty and sucked away numerous lives. After intense fighting and much blood shed, the Confederate men from Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia were able to hold the Devil’s Den as the men of New York regiments retreated.

The large boulders of the Den were perfect cover for Confederate sharpshooters picking off men, especially officers, along Little Round Top.

It is known that a sharpshooter from Texas met his death in an enclosed “pen” of stones known now as the Sharpshooter’s Pen. The famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady and his assistants roamed the battlefields after the fighting ceased and photographed nearly every one of the photos we see in our history books of the War Between the States. For a more dramatic effect, one of Brady’s assistants propped the Texas sharpshooter against the stone wall of the Sharpshooter’s Pen. It is rumored that the Texan’s restless spirit is not so happy about that.

Supposedly, people have reported camera failures while trying to photograph this area. There have been reports of visitor’s asking park rangers about the authentic-looking re-enactor that talked with them at Devil’s Den, only to find there were no re-enactors there at all. It has been said that a disembodied voice (speaking with a drawl) can be heard at times (along with other voices and moaning.) People have claimed that someone or something unseen touched them while standing in close proximity to the pen.

On July, 2—the anniversary of the fight at Devil’s Den—Red, S., and I thoroughly checked out the area at both day and nighttime. None of us had any camera problems…at least not there at Devil’s Den. (Red had already had a camera problem when hers flew out of her hand and broke on the sidewalk as we walked the campus of Gettysburg College. And I had problems earlier at another known haunted spot, Spangler's Spring, (where a woman in white can be seen at times) when my video camera died suddenly and would not record until I was home again.) We actually had nothing extraordinary happen while we were at Devil's Den the first time, except that we met a re-enactor (a real, live one) who shared with us some great stories and history. It was creepy there just knowing that what happened here was so grisly that the stream, Plum Run, next to these boulders ran so red with blood on that day that it was later renamed Bloody Run. But it was also so crowded with people that afternoon that it was hard to get any true feeling about the place.

We investigated many different sites later very that night that were known to be haunted. Before returning to camp, we decided to take the drive down the winding road to Devil’s Den again. We had hoped that it wouldn’t be so crowded at this time. There were only a few people besides us there, probably due to the fact the National Park Service closes access to the Battlefield Park’s roads at 10:00 p.m. The closing time for the road was fast approaching so we had not much time to spare. We had to get right down to investigating our “spot”. (Even though I was much braver then, I still did not wish to be closed in America’s most haunted battlefield overnight!)

Immediately after parking the car, we found our way with flashlights to the Sharpshooter’s Pen. Red, who was born in Ohio, began talking to the spirit. And S. and I muffled giggles as she spoke into seemingly thin air. Ridiculous, I thought. But it surely was fun. Then all of the sudden, Red jumped and her facial expression changed into one that was not so happy. She began looking down at her feet and brushing her ankles as if ants had begun to crawl up her leg.

“Something is touching me!” she exclaimed.

S. and I continued to giggle. (Georgia ain’t the only place with bugs, ya know!) I continued to tease Red,
“Maybe he just don’t like you because you’re a Yankee!”

Red did not laugh. She wasn’t amused at our wisecracks and she shot back to me,
“Then YOU step over here and talk to him, Southern Belle!”

Hearing the tone of her voice and seeing that her facial expression was still one of a person utterly freaked out, I stopped laughing. It was clear that she thought something strange was happening to her. I was still skeptical.

“Okay, I will then,” I replied as I stepped over into the spot where Red had been standing. She claimed that she felt fine and the “touching” had ceased when she stepped out of the pen.

For moments I stood there feeling like an idiot. I felt nothing happening to me. So I began to speak.

“Hi. My name is Outdoorsy Girl and I live in Georgia. Are you from Texas? The year is 2001, long past the year of 1863. But I know many people who live in Texas and I can pass a message on to someone who may help me locate your living relatives. Is there anything you would like to make known?”

I stood there for a moment. Just as I was about to laugh about the absurdity of it all, I felt something. It felt as if I were being touched by a cold, unseen finger. I felt like someone was gently stroking my right hand. My facial expression must have visibly changed.

“See, I told you!” yelled Red.

“You feel something, too?” asked S.

“Yes,” I muttered. “It feels like someone is stroking my hand!”

“Well, at least he’s not grabbing your ankles!” Red retorted, apparently not yet forgiving me for my teasing. Red’s camera flashed in my face as she snapped the shutter to forever freeze this moment on film.

As soon as Red made that comment, I felt the “finger” move up my arm to just above my elbow where it felt as if an unseen hand was going to grasp my upper arm in desperation. I jumped out of the pen.

Immediately the “touching” stopped, but left behind was a tingling sensation that didn’t stop for hours.

When Red had her film developed (ah, before our digital days, what did we do??), there was the worst picture in the world of me, with a silly, confused expression upon my face standing in the Sharpshooter’s Pen of the Devil’s Den of Gettysburg. And right in front of me is a large, white, transparent orb, forever recorded on film.

I returned to Gettysburg in May of 2003, again with my family. When we drove over to the Devil’s Den and I once again, walked along those enormous stones, I thought about the incident I had experienced two years earlier. In broad daylight I stood there alongside my brother wondering what had really happened that night. It certainly seemed less intimidating standing there with the sun shining brightly overhead, but just to be safe, I didn’t linger there very long alone. (You know, just in case the Texan remembered me and wanted to make sure I passed his message along.)

I wandered off alone, climbing over and under the stones. I climbed up on the highest perch I could find and I sat down and remembered what happened here so long ago and envisioned the terror of these brave men who gave up their lives to stand up for what they believed in. It was Memorial Day Weekend, after all. I watched my father, mother, and brother as they strolled along the rocks and each took their separate way. It seemed we all were remembering and honoring the brave that changed history to make today such a wonderful time to live.

The mood continued as we all piled back in the car and remained silent. But after only a few moments, we began to discuss our favorite subject—food—and where we would eat. Everyone except my mother, that is.

I looked over at her. She was pale and quiet. I asked her what was wrong, to which she began to reply and then cut herself off and mumbled, “Nothing”.

Later that night when she and I were taking a walk alone she told me that something had happened to her at Devil’s Den. Then my mother--a true skeptic and very quiet person-- admitted to me, “I heard a pitiful voice moaning and repeating, ‘Help me, help me, help me.’”

I believe her.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chickamauga National Battlefield, Georgia

Once upon a time there lived a fearless outdoorsy girl. This girl could walk through graveyards at midnight, would investigate strange sounds in the night without hesitation, would watch horror movies all alone in her dark bedroom and fall asleep immediately into sweet dreams without even a smidge of a creepy feeling, and had fearlessly encountered bears and even a stabber on a hiking trail. Her heart knew not the panic-induced excessive pounding that many hearts experienced during such times. This super girl’s only known fear-crushing kryptonite was a slithery snake.

But that was then. A warm night in November on a haunted battlefield changed that for her forever. I am what is left of that formerly fearless outdoorsy girl.

I had always loved a good scare. I always seemed to be, not only a person drawn to this type of thing, but also one who has the "other side" drawn to me. I can't exactly claim, "I see dead people" (thankfully) but weird things have happened to me since a young age. Maybe it's a key reason that I am so interested in the paranormal.

As a child my favorite cartoon was Scooby Doo (okay, it still is!). As an adult I love to watch TAPS and America’s Most Haunted. As a child I had a couple of ghostly encounters (such as seeing a recently passed relative and Native American ghosts through my window around the same time I unearthed arrowheads while playing with my Barbies in my backyard--which apparently was inhabited by Creek Indians many years ago). And as an adult I have had a couple of freaky, unexpIainable events take place and freaky stuff caught on film or digital shots but nothing that would terrify me so much as to flee a scene and vow never to return. I am still interested in the paranormal but not quite as willing to investigate it as I was once upon a time.

For some of you the following is a re-post, as I have already told this story once. Still I think it’s a great way to kick off my spooky story series and the Halloween season. So here’s the story of losing my bravery, taken directly from one of my previous posts…

This is my account of the experience I had in November while visiting the Chickamauga National Battlefield, Georgia near the Georgia/Tennessee State Line. I realize that it may sound made-up, but you asked for it! And so here it is…my true account of that night.

I was so freaked out by this that I wrote this all down in a notebook when I got home.

On Sunday, November 6, 2005, I went along with a couple of friends of mine T. and C. to the said battlefield. We arrived around 4:00 that afternoon to scope out our area. I was familiar with the battlefield because being the history nut that I am, I had already been there, but this would be my first “ghost” hunt and my first post-dark experience here. Since it is a National Park, all roads but the main highway would be closed at dark. We had to find a way to get to the reportedly most active part of the battlefield. Since I am usually the “map person” on all my trips, I took on this assignment and found a hiking trail that would still have accessible parking (since it was along one of the highways) that would lead us to Snodgrass Hill, the site of the battle’s climax. (Just a quick tidbit of info…The battle of Chickamauga Creek is one of the bloodiest in all of the Civil War. You just don’t hear as much about it since it occurred in the fall of 1863, a few months after the Battle of Gettysburg, which, along with the fall of Vicksburg immediately afterward, is considered the turning point of the war and so the Battle of Chickamauga Creek is considered less significant in the whole scheme of things.)

Right before dark my two friends and I parked our vehicle and started off on the trail through the woods to Snodgrass Hill. As we trudged along in the growing darkness, the thought did occur to me that it might be a wee bit freaky to hike back in the complete darkness of the woods of a grisly battle site. But remember, I was still fearless at this point and giggled it off as nothing. We made it to our destination of the open field and small hill right before dark. We sat along a log in the woods, hiding out and waiting for the cover of complete darkness and the slimmer chance of being busted by a park ranger.

As we waited in the ever-darkening woods, all three of us heard a faint “tink-tink-tink” sound a few yards away that sounded like metal hitting metal. It was odd, but I wasn’t freaked out at all. I figured there was some logical explanation. A few minutes later C. reported that he heard what he believed to sound like a horse’s breathing. I asked him from which direction he heard it and he pointed behind himself. As I looked in his general pointing direction I saw this whitish/gray movement through the trees. That was even more odd and I felt my heart skip a beat for moment, but then it passed and I was still not freaked out.

Complete darkness, excluding the moonlight, took the battlefield and we came out of hiding and began walking along the edge of the field, at the bottom of the hill, and by the woods. Immediately the top of the hill was covered in a thick fog. I thought it was a little weird because normally the bottom of a hill would grow foggy first, not the top. This “fog” never “rolled in” either. It was simply not there one moment and there the next moment I looked. As I looked at the top of the hill, I saw glowing, moving shapes around the monuments, cannons, and the cabin that sat atop the Snodgrass Hill. I blinked hard, looked away and then looked back, believing that my eyes must have been playing tricks on me somehow. But each time I looked, I saw the same thing. And then T. asked me if I was seeing the moving, glowing shapes. I stopped looking there for a while, feeling a tiny bit freaked by this point.

Nothing else caught my eye in the open field or in the nearby woods so I looked back to the top of hill. Now in addition to the occasional glowing shapes, I was also seeing dark shapes/shadows moving between the monuments. These dark shapes begin to scare me and I am now becoming increasingly freaked. These dark shapes scared me because they were eerily about human height and they were moving in groups of two or more shapes together. I watched them hoping to either convince myself that my eyes are being tricksy or that I am really seeing something unexplainable. T. was also doing the same and every now and then she would make a statement like, “Did you just see that? That dark figure moved to the left and then this white mist floated over it?” Every description she made was what I was seeing also.

We walked through some cold spots. I had heard that sometimes spirits manifest themselves as cold spots. When I say these spots were cold, I mean they were frigid. (When we left later that night, the bank in town read that it was 61 degrees.) When I stepped through these spots, I would be so cold my teeth would chatter and I would tremble all over. It felt like a 20-30 degree difference, no exaggeration! I could see my breath and then take a couple steps forward or away from the cold spot and feel normal again (with no visible breath).

The next out-of-the-ordinary thing that I experienced was the scent of a strong floral perfume. I thought it was strange to smell anything flowery since it was November and nothing was in bloom. As I had the strongest whiff of perfume, I stepped into another one of the icy spots.

Moments later we passed through several more frigid zones and then, all of the sudden, we all three came to a dead stop. We stepped into a warm spot and I don’t mean that it was normal temp that was feeling warm to us in comparison to extremely cold patches. It was hot! I could actually feel the heat seeping through the fleece jacket I was wearing! My face felt like it was being hit by the air of a hairdryer. T. and C. also were feeling it. Just as C. exclaimed, “You have to be feeling how warm this is!” all of the sudden our noses were filled with smell of gunpowder…strong gunpowder! Then it passed, but this happened a couple more times. I knew then I was truly experiencing some type of residual paranormal event. It was very exciting.

The next thing that happened, however, terrified me and has drug me down to be the wuss that I have now become. As we were searching for more of these warm, gunpowdery spots, we ran into another of those extremely cold patches. Then in the not-so-far distance, we heard a woman’s voice moaning. She sounded panicked and distraught. Her moaning eventually changed into what sounded like her calling a name. It was one syllable name…something like John, Bob, or Tom…I couldn’t quite make it out. C. and T. also were hearing it. The woman sounded so pitiful that I wanted to cry. Her desperate name calling was moving closer and closer to where I stood. I was then utterly and truly freaked! I wanted to run…quickly. But I was totally frozen. I could not move at all. I was scared to death. I could hear my blood rushing in my ears. As I stood there petrified with fear, I wondered what would happen when her voice eventually reached my face. Even now, I feel sick recalling the sound of that disembodied voice coming ever closer to me. Luckily, it suddenly stopped. I touched my pants to make sure I didn’t wet them. (haha) Then I stared over at T. and C. who were looking just as dumbfounded as me. It was several minutes before we could move again.

C. pulled out a voice recorder to see if we could catch the voice on tape. I wanted to cry. I wanted to leave right then. No more of this! C. spoke into the recorder asking for anyone to make their presence known. As soon as he spoke the words, there was an extremely bright light at the top of the hill. I dove into the woods, not even caring that I might be crouching down with a snake. I feared that it might have been a park ranger, but we never saw the light again. Whether it was a ranger or a beckoned presence, I don’t know. The jury is still out on that one.

Then I heard men’s voices in the woods behind us and toward the opposite end of the field. It sounded like many. I didn’t know what they were saying. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to be as far from there as possible. I knew that the voices I was hearing were not those of the living. I heard one man’s voice, yelling in the distance. It sounded like he was yelling, “Let’s leave! Let’s leave! Let’s leave!” I jumped to my feet. (He didn’t have to tell me twice! I was beyond ready to leave! haha.) I could tell by the expression on C.’s face that he was listening to the man yelling. I tried to calm down to listen again and the more I listened to the man repeatedly yelling out this phrase, I realized he was saying, “Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!” I asked C. what time it was. The time he told me was the time that I had read on a plaque earlier that the Union Army had retreated toward Rossville. And the direction that I heard the voice coming from? Oh, where else but towards Rossville!

C. and T. then told me they were ready to leave. I was so glad that I didn’t have to be the scaredy cat to tell them I wanted to go first! We walked the trail through the woods as fast as possible. I could still hear voices around me and occasionally see flashes of light in the woods around me. I felt like running as if something was chasing me. I had never been so damn happy to see any automobile as I was C.’s truck that night.

I was silent (for once in my life) in the truck for a while on the ride back home. When we did resume normal conversations, I tried to think of everything but what had just happened. C. dropped me off at my car in the parking lot that we met up in just off of the interstate. I had a five or ten minute drive back to my apartment. I felt so scared still, like something was with me. I know that sounds crazy. When I pulled into my apartment complex, a rock flew up and struck my windshield. Thinking (and hoping) it was kids acting up, I got out of my car only to see that no one was there and there was nowhere for anyone to hide.

I was so freaked out…no, I was terrified, actually. I slept with my lights on. I kept hearing sounds within my apartment that night. I had never wished that I was in the arms of some strong man more than I did that night! Yes, I remember wishing for one desperately that night…or at the very least my mama!

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Trip That Almost Wasn't

So Best Friend is once again a Georgia resident! Her relocation from Salt Lake to Atlanta is now complete…well, if you disregard the fact that the movers haven’t delivered her furniture yet. (Hey, who needs furniture or a TV or a computer?) The move wasn’t as smooth as I am leading you to believe, however. In fact, this whole awesome weekend trip almost didn’t happen. Hell, forget the trip! She almost called off her whole move in mid-relocation!

It was shortly after her only means of transportation completely died mid-journey just after crossing the Iowa State Line from Nebraska that she had her breakdown, only be followed by a more serious breakdown after renting an expensive car from Omaha to drive to Atlanta and then began her search for another vehicle (On a very tight budget, I might add). She had decided that she was going to quit her job and move back to Utah. Screw the job (that she loves)! Screw buying a new car (even though she needed one)! Screw her new apartment (even though she just signed the lease)! And screw moving back to stinking Georgia (even though she would get to be near her best friend and the most awesome person she knows)! Screw it all! She was going back home to Utah and that was that…until she found the really cute, affordable Nissan. Then the move and our weekend trip was on once again.

I headed to her new apartment on Friday evening. Dang! What a long drive! And to think that I was excited that she was moving close to me. I guess in comparison to Utah, she is close by. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the area she lives in is and impressed that they have an Old Navy and Kohl’s there. I guess I just wasn’t expecting much from a town that’s claim to fame is being Alan Jackson’s hometown. Yeeee-haw! I rather like it out there despite the fact that it’s 60 miles from my own apartment.

A perfectly warm and sunny Saturday, deep blue sky, and low humidity…What a great day for hanging out in my favorite haunt, Savannah. Of course, Best Friend and I did our usual Savannah routine (minus our doing one more new thing on each Savannah trip as we didn’t have the time allowance for any new things this time) but I almost felt like it was a whole new experience. More like, I felt that I saw things differently and through someone else’s eyes as Best Friend and I were joined by Slot Canyon Boy of Utah. Though Utah absolutely rocks in my opinion and there is no place else quite like it, the same can be said of my beloved Savannah. There is no place quite like it, not even in Utah.

After we arrived in Savannah, I drove them around the historic squares. Best Friend and I absolutely love the squares. We have a million pictures of them, but don’t have half the shots we want to take! (For anyone who doesn’t know, historic downtown Savannah’s streets are laid out in a grid. The squares in the middle of the grid are jewels of parks with statutes, monuments, fountains, gardens, and live oaks draped with Spanish Moss surrounded by amazing architecture of the colonial period.) Our very first stop was at Forsyth Park to take photos of the gorgeous fountain there.

After a briefing of the city’s layout (we planned to come back and walk the squares later), we headed over to Tybee Island where we climbed the Tybee Lighthouse. Slot Canyon Boy had never even seen a lighthouse, so we made the 178 stair climb just for him. I have probably climbed that lighthouse 50 times in my lifetime of visiting Savannah, but I still love that breeze and view just as much every time I stand on that gallery. After taking in the sea breeze, it was time to be in the sea breeze so we took a walk along the beach.

Then came the moment I had been waiting for…Seafood at the Crab Shack! It was perfect weather for sitting by the water on the deck under the tikki hut listening to some Jimmy Buffett and eating steamed oysters, crab legs, muscles, and shrimp. Yum! I was not disappointed. Poor Slot Canyon Boy was so disgusted at our chowing down on food that looked this way, that he could hardly look at us as he ate his cheese pizza. (Aww, but thanks for letting us eat there SCB. At least you got to see the baby alligators there!)

Next we were off to Fort Pulaski, a well preserved Civil War fort, in which the cannon holes are still visible in the old brick walls. There happened to be a cannon firing demonstration that day. It was really awesome to see the re-enactors show us the way it was back in the 1800’s. The cannon was so loud and powerful that I swear it blew my hair back! We were also able to find an alligator sunning by the moat before leaving.

Then we made a stop by the famous Bonaventure Cemetery. It is way too beautiful for a cemetery, but the statutes are just creepy enough to remind you that you are walking among the dead and not merely taking a walk in the park. I noticed a new statute placed in the cemetery in dedication to a recently passed female marathon runner. I don’t know if SCB enjoyed this part of the trip as much as Best Friend and I always do, but I think the two of us could spend all day there taking photos.

I think that he did, however, really like the drive across the high suspension bridge crossing the Savannah River. It’s a pretty high bridge for city like Savannah, but then again, it sort of has to be after an extremely large ship ripped through the old bridge. The new Talmadge Bridge is high enough to clear even the largest ships. After crossing the river, you enter into South Carolina, which added another state to the list of places visited for Slot Canyon Boy.

When we returned from the 30 second trip into South Carolina, we parked in downtown and walked River Street. We watched one of the street performers and finally (I knew it was coming!) Best Friend and I caved in to temptation and went into Wet Willie’s for a nice, strong drink. Now when I say strong, I mean it really was a good thing that we choose to walk through some more of the squares, through Colonial Park Cemetery, and by Saint John’s Cathedral for photos before driving the long drive home. Wet Willie's is something that you must walk off.

I am sorry to say that I don’t have even ONE picture to share as, for the first time ever, I forgot my camera at home! Maybe Slot Canyon Boy will email me a couple of his to share. Despite the fact that I didn’t take any pictures, I feel pretty good that we were able to show Slot Canyon Boy a good time full of firsts for him: first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean, first time to a Civil War fort, first time seeing Spanish Moss, first time seeing huge ships travel down the narrow channel on the river to the port of Savannah, first lighthouse, first look at an old southern city, first sighting of an alligator in the wild, and first crossing into South Carolina.

Ah, always good times in Savannah! I’m so glad that we were able to visit, even though the trip almost ended in Iowa long before it even began.
Coming Soon...

By the way, this is my blog’s Halloween look. Among my outdoorsy adventures are my adventures in ghost hunting. I have always had an interest in the paranormal, but more than that, I just like the thrill of going somewhere dark and spooky. And though I am nowhere near as fearless as I once was prior to an experience that erased all doubts of ghosts being an overactive imagination, I am planning to share some of my spooky stories throughout October.