13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey: The Haunted Historic Places That Inspired The Book

April Killian

Who doesn't remember reading 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey in school? If you grew up in Alabama, I can guarantee the book was in your school library. This was pre-internet time, after all. From it's first publishing in 1969, 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey was a huge hit and wildly popular - especially among it's targeted audience of young readers. Authors, Kathryn Tucker Windham and folklorist Margaret Gillis Figh gave a gift that kept us turning the pages in suspense. Not only did the book contain wonderfully southern crafted tales of hauntings and eerie sightings, but each story centered around an actual haunted location in our own state of Alabama. This brought the stories home and made them real. So, what has happened to these infamous creepy locations featured in the book since it was published? Do they still exsist? Let's revisit the places that gave birth to the spooky stories and see. 

Rocky Hill Castle 1935Alex Bush (public domain)

1. The Ghost of the Angry Architect at Rocky Hill Castle
Located between Town Creek and Courtland, Rocky Hill Castle is the sight of the first ghost story in the book. The house was built by slave labor on a plantation of 640 acres. The house known as "The Castle," was built to replace an existing home, also built by the Saunders, which the owner didn't feel was "grand" enough. The newer home showcased the Saunders wealth and power and dominated the rural landscape. A large stone gothic style tower, six stories tall with a lookout, that resembled a European castle was built to the side of the house. The tower, along with the extremely rocky landscape, gave the place it's name of Rocky Hill Castle. Construction began in 1858, was delayed during the civil war, then finally completed sometime just after the war. During the civil war, the house served briefly as a makeshift hospital and morgue. The house was said to be haunted since the time it was finished. As soon as the Saunders family moved in the home,  they heard loud banging and eerie sounds at night. They laughed and assumed it was the angry ghost of the architect of the home who had passed away while in dispute over money owed to him by Saunders. There was also the clear apparition of a woman dressed in blue seen in several places in the home. The family speculated that she could be the wife or lost love of one of the many Confederate soldiers who died in the makeshift hospital during the Civil War. Sadly, after the 1920's the last Saunders descendant moved from the house - supposedly in haste due to supernatural occurrences. It was after that the property passed through several hands and eventually fell into a sad state of disrepair. The Castle at Rocky Hill was completely demolished in 1961. The family who owned the property at the time, salvaged what they could and used the materials to build a house in nearby Decatur. A modern house was eventually built on the site of Rocky Hill Castle by another family a few years later. The only remnant left of the mansion is the Saunders Family Cemetary which is currently on private property. My mother was raised near Town Creek and had the opportunity as a teenager in the late 1940's to explore Rocky Hill Castle with a girlfriend who lived nearby. She said the house still had a few beautiful massive pieces of furniture that were so large, they must have been built inside the house. She described a beautifully made huge buffet in the dining room. Besides that, there was little left in the house - but my mother has told me many times about walking up the graceful winding staircases all the way to the copula atop the house where the view was breathtaking. There was an old caretaker and his wife who lived in a smaller home on the property who came to feed his hogs at the stone tower that was then fenced in and used as a livestock shelter. When he saw my mother and her friend, he approached them with the stern warning: "Now, you girls can look around, but you don't want to be here when the sun starts going down. Every day at sunset there's a woman dressed in blue that comes down the stairs and you can see right through her. So y'all get on home before it starts getting dark." Needless to say, the two giggling teenagers made sure they were far from the mansion by sunset! 

2. Death Lights In the Tower at the Drish House
The Drish House was built in 1837 by John R. Drish in Tuscaloosa. The brick stucco mansion has a unique three story tower that was added to the front of the house around 25 years post construction. The house is considered to be the finest example of the mix of Greek Revival and Italianate architecture in Alabama. Mr. Drish died by falling down one of the staircases in the home in 1867 and his window died in 1884. Since her death, apparitions of a fire blazing in the third story room of the tower have been seen over and over. Some speculate that the fires are from the candlelight vigil that Mrs. Carlisle requested but was never given at her death.  According to many paranormal websites, it's also said to be overall one of the most haunted places in the country! The brick mansion had fallen into devastating disrepair by the mid 1900s after being used as a school, an auto parts store, a wrecking company headquarters, and even  a church for many decades. This old mansion does have a happy ending, however. The house was saved in the early 2000's, renovated, and opened in 2016 as an event center hosting weddings, parties and private events (see their website here). There is a warning on their website for prospective customers, however, that the historic old home is very haunted! If you go there, you've been warned!

Carlisle Hall 1934 (a.k.a. Kenworthy Hall)W. N. Manning (public domain)

3. Faithful Vigil at Carlisle Hall
Carlisle Hall, also known as the Carlisle-Martin House or Kenworthy Hall, is located near Marion in Perry County. The house was designed in asymmetrical Italian Villa style by famed architect, Richard Upjohn, and completed in 1860 for Edward Kenworthy Carlisle. Legend says that when the civil war began shortly after completion of the house, Carlisle's daughter was engaged to a young man who went to fight in the civil war. She believed that if her betrothed survived the first battle that he would survive the entire war. She instructed a slave who had accompanied her boyfriend to battle to bring word back as soon as possible. She promised that she would be watching from the top floor of the tower. She told the slave to carry a white flag if her boyfriend survived the battle or a red flag if he had been killed. Day after day, the young woman kept vigil in the tower - waiting and hoping for news that her boyfriend had survived the battle. One evening while having dinner,  Ann Carlisle heard the faint pounding of horses hooves approaching the house. She ran to the window to get a glimpse of the rider.  As he came into view, it was indeed the slave - but Ann's heart sank as she saw the dark red flag waving behind him. Knowing her betrothed would never return to her, she flung herself off the fourth floor staircase, dying instantly. It is said to this day that Ann Carlisle can be seen watching and waiting fron the tower - still hoping for good news of her boyfriend's safe return. The house survives to this day in private ownership and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearly lost in the 1950's, the home was heavily vandalized and almost destroyed. Through a series of owners in the following decades, the house was slowly restored. Would you like to own this piece of historic property? As of August 21, 2022, the house is on the market! Photos of the house and it's gorgeous interior can be seen here on the Kenworthy-Carlisle Hall Facebook page. If only I had the money, I would buy this place in a heartbeat - ghosts and all!!!

Old Cahaba Present Day (Old Cahawba)Alabama Historical Society

4. The Specter in the Maze at Cahaba
Cahaba, also known as Old Cahawba is a ghost town located in Dallas County between Selma and Orrville. Tours of the old town are available (see their website here) and efforts are being made to preserve what is left of the old town. According to their website:

Cahawba was once Alabama’s state capital (1819-1826) and a thriving antebellum river town. It became a ghost town shortly after the Civil War. Today it is an important archaeological site and a place of picturesque ruins. Nature has reclaimed much of Old Cahawba, but historians and archaeologists from the Alabama Historical Commission are working hard to uncover Cahawba’s historic past and to create a full time interpretive park.

The story of Cahaba in 13 Ghosts of Alabama and Jeffrey, includes an eerie glowing orb of light that is often seen among the old cedar tree garden maze and ruins of what was once the home of C.C. Pegues. Pegues home was also once the sight of the first jail at Cahaba. Some people think the glowing orb is the spirit of old C.C. Pegues while some think it's one of the former inmates of the jail - perhaps someone who was hanged in the town. It sounds similar to the Cloverdale Spook Lights, to me. If you haven't read about those, you can find the story here in my article: "Urban Legends of the Shoals

"Hailing a Steamboat" Print 1871Public Domain (Library of Congress)

5. The Phantom Steamboat of the Tombigbee
The Eliza Battle was a steamboat that made regular trips between Columbus, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama. During one of these trips on the night of March 1, 1858, the steamboat caught fire near the town of Pennington, Alabama. Out of a crew of 45 and roughly 60 passengers, it's believed that 33 to 50 people lost their lives that night as they were forced to jump in the freezing waters of the Tombigbee. Since that fateful evening, people have reported seeing the Eliza Battle on the Tombigbee near the same location she was lost. Of course, the Eliza Battle was destroyed that night - so, there's no way to visit it  - but you can take a stroll along the waterfront at Pennington on a dark night. Who knows? You may see the Phantom steamboat on the river yourself or hear the screams of the passengers and crew as they plunge into the frigid black water. 

Gainswood Plantation 1910Library of Congress (public domain)

6. The Unquiet Ghost At Gainswood
According to wikipedia

Gaineswood is a plantation house in Demopolis, Alabama, United States. It is the grandest plantation house ever built in Marengo County and is one of the most significant remaining examples of Greek Revival architecture in Alabama. The house was built with the profits of forced labor, and much of the actual construction was performed by enslaved people. It was completed on the eve of the American Civil War after a construction period of almost 20 years. The house and grounds are currently operated by the Alabama Historical Commission as a historic house museum. 

The "unquiet ghost" said to haunt Gaineswood is Evelyn - the younger sister of the housekeeper. Evelyn was an accomplished pianist and especially loved to play the piano whenever she was upset as it had a soothing quality to her. During her brief visit to Gaineswood, Evelyn fell very ill and passed away suddenly. Because of the civil war going on at that time and the winter weather, Evelyn's body could not be returned to her home in Virginia right away. Instead, the family had to put her in a sealed casket and temporarily store her body underneath the cellar staircase. This must have upset the spirit of Evelyn greatly and almost immediately afterwards, people in the house heard the shuffling of feet coming up the stairs from the cellar. In the middle of the night, the ghost of Evelyn could be heard playing the piano all hours of the night - as if trying to calm herself down in the afterlife. Do you think the restless spirit of Evelyn resides at Gainswood to this day? You can visit the home for a tour. They also book the site for weddings and events. For more info, see their website here.

Pickens County CourthouseUSC Digital Folklore Archives

7. The Face in the Courthouse Window in Pickens County
This may the most well known story from the book  - and is definitely one of my favorites. The story centers around the Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, Alabama. The story begins in the book:

"Since 1878 there has been the picture of a man's face so indelibly stamped on the window of the Pickens County Courthouse that it looks as if a photographer had snapped his lens and made the likeness on the glass pane. But it was no human photographer who reproduced that countenance, which reflects the anguish and terror filling the heart of a man who knew he was face to face with violent death."

The face was that of Henry Wells, a former slave, who was falsely accused of burning down the former town courthouse. As a crowd gathered to take justice into their own hands, Wells peered down from the very top window of the courthouse where the Sheriff had placed him for safety and yelled to the crowd, "I am innocent! If you kill me, I am going to haunt you for the rest of your lives!" As soon as he screamed to the angry mob, a flash of lightning hit the courthouse at the very window from which he stood, etching his fearful image into the glass. Some accounts say the lightning killed Wells and some say he was killed by the crowd - but everyone agrees that his face can be seen to this day in the very same window atop the courthouse. I have visited the Carrolton Court House myself - and while there is some sort of image or mark on the window, I have to say that I was a little disappointed after reading the story and seeing that the image was rather vague and blurry. At best, I would chalk it up to a case of pareidolia which is the tendency for humans to see a face or other familiar image in a random blur or pattern.  I still love the mystery of the image,  however. You can visit the Pickens County Courthouse yourself any day of the week as it sits in the middle of the town square in Carrolton, Al. The town has put an arrow on the building that points to the window with the image so it's very easy to spot! The building itself, built in 1878, is very interesting and historical to see, as well. 

8. Mobile's Pipe Smoking Captain
This story centers around a mysterious old sea captain who retired to Mobile. No one knew much about him. He was very quiet and kept to himself as he walked along the piers and boats constantly smoking a pipe. He was a lonely and troubled soul who longed for the sea and eventually took his own life. Since that time, his spirit has been seen still walking and still smoking his pipe- and the distinct smell of tobacco lingers in the air whenever his ghost appears. The book does not name the residence - it only says that it was a house on State Street in Mobile - but it does say that the Captain often stopped to rest on a bench underneath giant oaks at Mobile's Bienville Square. Bienville Square is still there to this day. According to their website,

At the center of Mobile’s downtown, Bienville Square has been an integral part of our city’s history. In 1824, the United State Congress reserved a plot specifically to be used as a city park, and over time the entire block was acquired. Bienville Square was named for Mobile’s founder, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville. The square takes up the entire block bordered by the streets of Dauphin, Saint Joseph, Saint Francis, and North Conception, and is notable for its large cast iron fountain with an acanthus leaf motif. The park’s storied past includes hosting a speech by President Theodore Roosevelt. Currently, Bienville Square hosts a variety of events like Kids Day, Bayfest Music Festival and Jazz in Bienville and is a popular recreational site.

Maybe if you visit Bienville Square and sit on the benches underneath the huge oak trees, you'll smell the faint scent of tobacco smoke from a pipe and catch a glimpse of the old Captain as he walks along to keep an eye on the water. 

Sturdivant Hall 1934W. N. Manning (public domain)

9. The Return of the Ruined Banker at Sturtivant Hall
John Parkman was a wealthy and respected young banker when he bought the grand Sturdivant Hall mansion in 1864 from the Watts family who had overseen it's construction. Less than three years later, however, Parkman found himself at the center of a banking scandal, his good name smeared, and imprisoned at the nearby Cahaba jail. His assets, including his beloved home, were seized by local authorities.  During an attempted escape from jail, aided by a handful of friends and supporters, Parkman sadly lost his life. A few years later, Sturdivant Hall was sold to another family, the Gilmans. When the new family moved in, that's when servants and caretakers who had known Mr. Parkman began to feel his presence back at the mansion and even see full apparitions of him on the grounds in various places. It seems that Mr. Parkman still makes his presence known there to this day. Sturdivant Hall, also called the Watts-Parkman-Gillman home located in Selma, is currently a museum that is open to the public and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sold to the city of Selma in 1957, the home is well maintained. Much of the money for the purchase came from the estate of Robert Sturtivant with the provision that the house be made a museum for the city - thus the name "Sturdivant Hall." For more information or to visit the museum, please see their Facebook page here

Highway 134 BridgeEcjmartin1 (wiki commons)

10. The Hole That Will Not Stay Filled in Dade County 
This ghost story centers around the wrongful hanging of Bill Sketoe. Sketoe, originally from Spain, had come to the area near Newton as a young boy. He grew up there, became a minister, and married a young woman from the town. When the civil war began, he left to join the Confederate guard. When news reached him that his wife was gravely ill, however, he made plans to come back home to care for her. As was often done in those days, he hired someone to take his place in the Confederate Army until he could return. Back home, however, he came under the suspicions of a group called the "Home Guard" who accused Sketoe of deserting his place in the Confederate Army. Without giving him a fair trial or even a chance to prove his innocence in any way, the Home Guard ambushed Sketoe and hurriedly hung him from a large oak tree on the banks of the Chattahoochee River. In their rush to hang Sketoe, they had not accurately estimated his size and as they strung him up, his tiptoes touched the ground. One of the members of the Home Guard used a crutch that aided him in walking to quickly dig and scrape out a small pit underneath Sketoe so that his feet were off the ground and the hanging could be completed. For years afterwards, people noticed that the spot where Sketoe was hanged and the hole that was dug underneath him never filled up. People tried filling it up and even camping on it all night only to find the hole back in the morning. In 1979, a new bridge was constructed on Highway 134 almost directly over the site of the hole. Then in 1990, highway crews had to reinforce a large area around the bridge with limestone boulders where flooding and erosion threatened to wash out the bridge. The boulders completely covered Sketoe's hole. For all we know, the hole is still there - it's just not visible due to the tons of rock that now cover it. The city of Newton and the descendants of Bill Sketoe erected a monument in 2006 near the site memorializing the tragic event and the infamous hole. Bill Sketoe's grave is also a popular tourist stop. More info about his grave can be found on the Findagrave website here.

Huntingdon College 1918 (Women's College of Alabama)Public domain (Wikimedia commons)

11.The Red Lady of Huntingdon College in Montgomery
This ghost story is actually about two female ghosts said to haunt Huntingdon College - a private Methodist College founded in 1854 as a women's college. The first apparition is that of a lady wearing a long red dress, carrying a red parasol, who was first seen walking the halls of a dormitory when the college was originally located in Tuskegee. The second ghost, is that of a young student named Martha who was obsessed with the color red and sadly took her own life in Pratt Dormitory after the school had moved to it's present location in Montgomery. On the anniversary of her death each year, bright flashes of red are said to shine in the room where she took her life and apparitions of her are seen in the dormitories from time to time. Huntingdon college is said to be one of the most haunted colleges in the country. It's been the subject of many podcasts, youtube videos and television shows. Pratt Hall, the dormitory where Martha was said to tragically end her own life, has since been converted to the Huntingdon Department of Education and Psychology Building. In October of each year, several sororities at Huntingdon take part in the "Red Lady Run" where they paint their faces red, wear all black, and have various activities across campus. Rather morbid - but probably fun, too. I have several friends who went to Huntingdon College and they say the myth of the Red Lady along with several other ghost tales are a vivid part of the memories of their time spent there.  

Purefoy-Lipscombe HouseRuralSWAlabama.org

12. The Crying Spirit At the Well in Furman, Wilcox County.
This tale takes place at the family home of Dr. John H. Purefoy whose ancestors were among the first settlers to the small town of Furman in Wilcox County. Purefoy, being the only doctor in the town, was met with hardship when the well in his back yard went dry. It had been a hard time of draught that summer, so the well of his neighbors was dry, also. To have water readily available for his practice, he told his servants to fetch water from a spring located about a mile away at a location called Savage Hill. To his dismay, the servants repeatedly came back empty handed. They said that a witch guarded the spring in the form of a black cat and would cause the water to spill each time they tried to carry it back. Needing water desperately for his practice, Dr. Purefoy hired a team of men to dig a second well in his yard. He told the team of men to make sure they built a wooden frame inside the well as they dug deeper and deeper, else the walls might cave in. The men didn't listen. Confident they could finish early by not building any reinforcements, they took turns climbing down in the deep hole to dig. Just as they were about done, the men met with tragedy as the entire well collapsed, burying one of the crew alive. Desperate attempts were made to dig him out - but his body was never found. Some say he fell into an underground stream and was whisked away. The well was abandoned and the dirt filled back in the hole. Soon afterwards, residents began seeing the sobbing figure of a man sitting on the fresh dirt where the well had been dug. Quiet sobs could be heard along with a male voice crying, "Get me out of here. Please, please, get me out." Legend says that grass never grew back on the site of the well, either. Although the house is not mentioned specifically in the book, I was able to find it online. It was built in 1840 by Edmond Hobdy prior to being sold to the Purefoy family. It remained in the Purefoy family until 1987. It stands to this day and is a privately owned residence. Whether the ghost and his heart wrenching cries can still be heard to this day is unknown - but residents of the small town say that grass have never grown on the site of the tragedy at the well. (*Note: In the book, 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey, the name is spelled Purefoy. However, in historical accounts of the house and family, it is spelled Purifoy. I chose to stick with the spelling in the book.)

Grave of Grancer Harrison 2011AtlBraves2346 (Wiki commons)

13. The Dancing Ghost of Grancer Harrison near Kinson
This ghost story centers around the grave of a wealthy plantation owner, Grancer Harrison. Grancer was a very eccentric man who wished to be buried in his feather bed and dressed in his finest dancing attire, all encased in a brick structure. You see, Grancer's greatest joy in life was dancing and he had built a huge dance hall near his home where he hosted parties and dances every Thursday night. After his death, his family obliged and indeed buried him as he wished. In the years following, stories cropped up that the ghost of old Grancer could be seen dancing at his grave. Eerie fiddle music could also be heard along with echoing calls of a squardance master. People generally avoided his grave - but here's where things get weird. There was a local rumor that a large sum of gold was also buried in the brick tomb with Grancer. In 1964, vandals seeking his treasure, blew the tomb open with dynamite. Yes, you read that right...dynamite. Unfortunately, this scattered old Grancers skeletal remains and completely destroyed the tomb. It was rebuilt with solid concrete - but that has not deterred vandals. The last time it was vandalized was in 2010 when someone tried to chip their way through the concrete  and approximately 50 tombstones in the vicinity were also overturned and vandalized. Do these people want an angry ghost to follow them home? Because that's how you get an angry ghost! The tomb remains, however, and reports of hearing music and seeing old Grancer dancing around it linger to this day. 

Jeffrey the Ghost (background right)Windham / Alabama Press (via NPR)

Last, but not least, is Jeffrey. Jeffrey was the name given to the supposed resident ghost at the home of the book's coauthor, Katherine Turner Windham. In fact, Jeffrey was the catalyst that caused Windham's interest in ghost stories and the very reason we have her wonderful books today. Windham was able to snap a photo of Jeffrey that was in the very first publication of 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. His shadowy figure was then featured in each of Windham's subsequent ghost story collections - seven in all. What do you think? Is the photo real? Do you have a personal experience with one of the 13 ghosts of Alabama? Leave a note in the comments! 

Please click "follow" below to see more of my local articles about my phone state of Alabama and the Shoals area in the future! If you have a story to share, send it to me! I may feature it in an upcoming article. Send your story to: april.newsbreak@gmail.com 
Thanks for reading!

Comments / 5

Published by

April Killian is a native of Florence, Alabama and writes about her home state of Alabama and the Shoals area. She is the mom of many pets and 3 adult children. Along with writing, she sells vintage items online and conducts estate sales in her area. She is a lifelong supporter of charity work, loves life, and tries to be a positive force in this world in everything she does! Her writing passions include: family and social issues, nature, humor, the paranormal and anything interesting or weird! Click on "follow" to see more of her articles in the future! https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Aprilkillian

Florence, AL

More from April Killian

Comments / 0