256 Today has teamed up with Southern Ghost Girls Tours to bring you four of North Alabama’s most notorious and proven haunted places for the Halloween season.
DECATUR — The Old State Bank, built in 1833, turned 189 years old in July and, for at least 150 years of it, there have been stories about its haunting.
Apparitions of a woman wearing all black appear in photographs taken in front of the one surviving mirror of a pair that once graced the lobby – a woman that was not there when the photographs were taken.
And people have reported seeing a sorrowful woman wearing a blue dress peering forlornly out the second-floor window where Washington Keyes, the bank’s first manager lived. Some believe she is searching for her children who may have been killed during the Battle of Decatur.
The caretakers of the museum (it’s no longer a bank) called on Southern Ghost Girls Tours to investigate the strange phenomena left in the ectoplasm of the bank’s traumatic history following the three-day Battle of Decatur. Union troops, led by Brig. Gen. Robert S. Granger, one of Gen. William T. Sherman’s men, inflicted 450 casualties on Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood’s force in October 1864. The bank was only one of four buildings to survive.
“I believe some of the drastic change and trauma of the bank has manifested itself in the space that is there,” said Ghost Girls founder Lesley Ann Hyde. “It saw a lot of negative energy during that time. There are still marks in the walls and in the pillars out front where cannonballs struck the bank.
“Sherman’s army burned, raped, and pillaged most of Decatur but the bank survived because they turned it into a Civil War hospital. They did surgeries and amputations in the bank vault, so you can image the pain and agony that went on there.”
She said one of the legends that has survived since that time is that of the “Weeping Widow”, a woman usually seen wearing a black dress of the Civil War era looking very sad.
Hyde said there is a story about a woman who lost two sons in the battle, but history does not give the woman’s name.
“But the woman has been seen by many, many people through the years in the mirror on the bottom floor of the bank. And, even today, people who have had prom and wedding pictures made in front of that mirror, believed to be one of the original pieces of the bank’s décor, often see her as a ghostly apparition in the developed pictures.”
Hyde said the Southern Ghost Girls team did a private investigation, as well as an interactive fundraising Ghost Girls Tours there.
Check out 256 Today’s story about the Southern Ghost Girls investigations by clicking here.
“We find all kinds of evidence around that mirror and around the mantle when we use our scientific equipment,” she said. “Our electromagnetic sensors go off whenever people ask questions.
“We have found all kinds of dowsing rod phenomena.”
One of the experiments they perform is they place a flashlight on the mantle and ask, “If you are the Weeping Widow, can you turn on the flashlight?” and the flashlight comes on.
“And then if you tell it turn it off …”
“It goes off,” said Jackie Bearden, Hyde’s mother, and official photographer for the Ghost Girls.
They both believe there is a lot of paranormal energy in that bottom floor area around the old vault where the mirror and mantle are, as well as inside the vault.
“The museum historians feel there could have been a matching mirror, but they do not where it is, so that makes it sort of spooky, too,” she said. “But the walls of the vault itself are made of reinforced limestone.
“Limestone is absorbent and a known conduit that holds energy, so you can just imagine, they supposedly used the vault as their surgical room for amputations and things like that because it was cool – it stays around 66 degrees and acted like an air-conditioner at a time when there was none.
“When we did investigations inside the vault, we got more voices and they were telling us, clear as day as it came across, there was a nurse who worked there during the Civil War.”
Using a green laser dowsing rod for yes answers and red dowsing rods for no, Hyde said they would flash red or green as they asked questions, and it was like carrying on a conversation with the spirit of the nurse and possibly some of the soldiers.
“You definitely get a different feel from the vault, and we do not think they have anything to do with the Weeping Widow,” she said. “We went there to investigate the widow and discovered there are several spirits there in the vault.”
She said in one of their experiments they used copper dowsing rods, sometimes called divining rods used for thousands of years to find water, and not exactly contemporary investigative tools.
In one experiment, Lesley holds the rods in front of her and asks the spirit to spell its name by crossing or manipulating the rods when she calls out the letters of the alphabet.
“I started calling out the alphabet … A, B, C, D, E…
“I’m telling you, there were 20 people in the room on the tour and we all heard it, a loud disembodied female voice says, ‘C’ from the corner of the room where no one was sitting,” she said. “Everyone turned towards the corner and said, ‘What was that? Someone said C!’
You can see that experiment in the embedded video and hear the disembodied female voice backup to “C” when she goes passed the first letter of the spirit’s name. Although it may be difficult to discern in the video, the voice comes from a corner of the room where no one was seated.
“Everyone was so shocked, we could not finish,” said Hyde. “We kept playing it back and everyone was just stunned by it.”
There is another legend about another woman that haunts the bank’s second floor called the Blue Lady or the Lady in Blue.
“She has been seen for over 100 years, a woman wearing a blue Civil War-era ballgown looking out the window on the second floor where the bank founder lived, as if she is looking for something or someone,” Hyde said. “In our investigation, and putting all the evidence together, we have come up with an idea that she is looking for a lost child, maybe one that passed away, because we also pick up children’s spirits.”
Benny Ledford, the only male investigator on the Ghost Girls team, has led most of the experiments upstairs.
“I used different colored KIIs (KII EMF meters) strung along a rope spaced about a foot apart,” he said. “If something moves past them, they either change colors or intensify in color.
“I like using them because I can see when the Blue Lady moves past them, and I sense the spirit of children there as well.”
Hyde said they have worked with the bank to track down historical records of who lived there or occupied the space through the years but, so far, they have not come up with any names.
“But we know without question, those spirits, the spirts of Civil War soldiers and medics, the Blue Lady and the Weeping Widow in the mirror are there, based on our investigations,” she said.
To book a Southern Ghost Girls Tour, click here … and remember… If you arrive a skeptic, you will leave a believer.
Stay tuned for the Haunting of Sweetwater Mansion in Florence next week!