A Southern Haunting
True Hauntings of the South
By: CK Webb
With the college football world, and of course my state, still buzzing over Alabama’s win in the BCS National Championship game, I couldn’t think of a more suiting place to explore for ghosts than Tuscaloosa, Alabama
The University Of Alabama
Situated in the heart of Tuscaloosa is the beautiful campus for the University of Alabama.
Established in 1831, the university catered to around 100 students at its inception. With the strain of the civil conflict looming and the inevitable coming of the Civil War, the university saw its share of conflict. Discipline and student behavior was a major issue at the university almost from the day it opened. Early presidents attempted to enforce very strict rules where conduct was concerned. Students were prohibited from drinking, swearing, making unauthorized visits off-campus, or playing musical instruments outside of a one-hour time frame. Even with all the rules, riots and gunfights were not an uncommon occurrence. To combat the severe discipline problem, President Landon Garland lobbied and received approval from the legislature in 1860 to transform the university into a military school. As such, many of the cadets who graduated from the school went on to serve as officers in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. As a result of that particular role, Union soldiers burned the college to the ground on April 4, 1865. Only four buildings survived the burning: the President's Mansion, Gorgas House, Little Round House, and Old Observatory. Though the campus was eventually restored to its former glory, ghostly happenings began to take shape, and the history of the university became ripe with, not only school spirit, but a few ‘ghostly spirits as well.
One of the more common ghost stories is that of a union soldier who was murdered while in the cadet guardhouse. The guardhouse, now known as Jason’s Shrine or The Little Round House, has had numerous reports from students and faculty who claim to have heard the young cadet wandering around in the room, only to have the sounds disappear upon their inspection.
Other ghostly reports include the feeling of being watched in the basement and a shadowy figure on the 13th floor of Tutwiler Hall. This ghost is said to be that of a female student who committed suicide by lighting herself on fire.
There are also claims of the sounds of horses and buggy, footsteps following behind, and even reports of people being touched by a hand that they cannot see. There have been voices heard and even desks scattered all around in the classrooms where a boiler exploded many years ago, killing several students.
The ‘Quad’ is also a hotbed of activity and many reports have noted seeing four confederate soldiers marching about, the sounds of cannon and gun fire and even voices shouting military style orders.
Denny Chimes on the Quad
I have seen these places first hand, and though I have never had any ‘ghostly’ experiences of my own while on campus, the long and rich history of the place makes it a prime area for residual and intelligent hauntings.
Old Bryce Mental Institute
Commonly called "Old Bryce", the institution was used for over one hundred years and is now in terrible decay. In the 1960’s it was shut down and almost everything was left behind. Today you can still locate old patient records, chairs, mattresses, wheel chairs and other medical medical equipment in the dilapidated building. Late at night, strange sounds can be heard such as footsteps when no one is there, and banging on the walls and metal structures. There are also several cemeteries that belonged to the hospital where many patients were laid to rest.
One of Bryce Cemetery Historical Markers
If you plan on going for a visit, it would be a good idea to get permission. The grounds and cemeteries are patrolled by security and Bryce is still considered ‘private property’.
The Drish Mansion
Completed in the late 1830’s then transformed between 1860 and 1862 into a hybrid, bracketed Greek Revival Italianate Villa, the Drish Mansion is one the most unusual antebellum mansions around. After the Drish family sold the property, the mansion became a suburban focal point and was remodeled in 1887 and then surrounded by a traffic circle with wondrous views down each of the newly laid streets and avenues.
Dr. John Drish had originally constructed the home for his wife Sarah. When Dr. Drish died, Sarah burned candles in the upper room as he lay in state before his burial. After the funeral, Sarah put the candles away and requested that the same ones be used at her funeral. As Sarah grew older, it is said that she became obsessed with the candles being burned at her funeral and made friends swear to grant her last wish. But, after her death, friends and family were unable to locate the candles and Sarah’s last wish was never granted.
Shortly after her passing, the tower where Sarah had burned the candles for her husband spontaneously caught fire. But, when fire crews arrived, they were shocked to find no flames and no evidence of smoke or fire. The ‘ghost fire’, as it has come to be known, was reported several more times and many people wondered who or what could be causing the strange happenings. One night, after one of the fires was reported and then mysteriously vanished, the first ever sighting of the Sarah Drish ghost was documented.
Today the Drish Mansion is again in a serious state of disrepair and in need of a caretaker, but that has not stopped the reports of the ghostly figures and unexplainable fires. If you get close enough and look to the highest room in the tower, you can see the faint glowing reds and oranges of the ghostly flames flickering in the night.
With its long and vibrant history, the city of Tuscaloosa has some wonderful stories to tell. Though I have highlighted a few haunts from Tuscaloosa, by no means have I told all the tales that this college town has to offer. If you ever find yourself in Tuscaloosa, make sure you indulge yourself with some of the finest food in the South, visit the beautiful campus of The University of Alabama, stop into the Bryant Museum for a look at history and venture out into the lights, music and wine bars of the night scene. If you find yourself in Tuscaloosa and are searching for something on the darker side, take a detour to one of the fabulous places that I have told you about and test out your nerve.
That feeling of being watched or of that cold, unexplained breeze on the back of your neck may be just the thing you need to push Tuscaloosa, Alabama to the top of your favorite haunts list!
*Though I have highlighted several documented haunted sights from the city of Tuscaloosa, it is by no means all of them. Below is a list of a few more places that deserve recognition for their ghostly inhabitants and for the things there that go bump in the night.*
The Jemison-Van De Graff Mansion Tuscaloosa
The Jemison Center, Northport
Battle-Friedman House, Tuscaloosa
The University Club, Tuscaloosa
Maxwell Crossing, Tuscaloosa
The Amelia Gorgas Library and guard shack, Tuscaloosa