My new book, Haunted Plantations of The South, has just hit the bookshelves. In the book, I share brief histories and ghost stories of nearly one hundred separate plantations throughout eight southern states. Some of the plantations are successful bed and breakfasts, while others have unfortunately been all but forgotten. However, with each story I attempted to give the reader a sense of how each place has a distinct personality. Although there are dozens of stories, I believe that I really just scratched the surface of the rich history and legacy associated with the plantations. In all fairness, each plantation would need its own book to truly give its respective history justice.
I hope that Haunted Plantations of the South will give paranormal enthusiasts the opportunity to do their own research and conduct their own investigations of an area included in the book. Although I no longer personally do investigations, I am occasionally approached by both seasoned and novice ghost hunters. In each case, I always give the same advice: be aware of your surroundings, be respectful of the people you meet and the locations you visit, and research an area thoroughly (including history and legends) before visiting it. In order to truly full extent of a haunting, I feel it is necessary to focus on the human element. After all, ghosts were people, too.
With the very title of a book like Haunted Plantations of the South, most readers would naturally believe that the book was written exclusively for paranormal enthusiasts and ghost hunters. While it is a collection of documented paranormal events associated with southern plantations, I wanted it to be more than simply a collection of ghost stories. As with my previous book, Haunted Route 66, I wanted to write about something that could be of interest to a number of different audiences.
To me one of the most interesting and endearing qualities of any historical location, whether it be on the Mother Road or in the rural South, are the legends that are associated with that location. To some extent, I believe that most legends stem from actual events that took place at some point in the past. An eyewitness account, newspaper article, or hypothesis of an event is all that is necessary for a legend to get started. In essence, the story goes viral and with each telling details are added or removed, and, like the old game of "Telephone," soon the newer story has little if any semblance to an event that actually happened.
Eventually, similar versions of the same story will emerge again and again at other locations. While researching Haunted Route 66, one story that kept repeating itself was that of the proverbial phantom hitchhiker. The story has literally been repeated in hundreds of cities throughout the United States. The legend of the phantom hitchhiker likely originated from one or more actual events at some point in the past. However, it will likely be impossible to learn where the story originated. Over the years and decades that followed its introduction into our society, the story has evolved to the point that it has become part of our American mythos in much the way that the Mothman or Sasquatch have done in recent years. The same can be said about legends surrounding haunted plantations.
A good way to determine whether an account of a haunting is authentic or a legend is to find some tangible evidence pointing to the actual paranormal event. An eyewitness account or video will definitely lean toward the possibility of a paranormal event. Conversely, If there is no tangible evidence or if it was told by a good friend or other third party, the chances that the account may be part of a legend considerably increases.
I'm not saying that we should overlook a legend that has been connected with a haunted area; I actually believe that quite the opposite is true. Ghost stories and legends are crucial to maintaining the ambiance and personality of a location. And, please keep in mind that although there may be legends connected to a plantation or other site does not mean that it is not haunted. Indeed, a legend associated with a location very well may have been based on an actual paranormal event.
While writing Haunted Plantations of the South, I attempted to make certain that actual dates and events were as accurate as possible with each story. In doing the research, I not only sought out references from a variety of mediums (recorded interviews, reputable websites, libraries, etc.), but whenever possible I contacted several people connected to the plantations themselves. This included current private plantation owners, bed and breakfast managers, and employees of visitors and convention bureaus. By speaking directly with these people, I learned bits and pieces of information that are not found in books.
One thing that each person I interviewed had in common was that he or she was dedicated to and dearly loved their respective locations. I greatly respect that quality and the people who exhibit that trait. I spent only a year researching nearly one hundred different locations and I have become very enamored with these plantations. I can only imagine what pride and devotion that somebody who has spent years learning about one location can feel. The historians, curators, docents, volunteers, reenactors, and anybody else connected with the preservation of the plantations and related historical parks should be commended.
Without an accurate and thorough history, we would not have specific details that can lead to a place being reported as haunted. We would not have any names or other information that could help us understand that a place is haunted by the restless spirits of real people.
A Symbiotic Relationship
Although not necessarily apparent at first, the ghost hunters, historians, and those who are interested in preserving the legends of an area all have a very strong and symbiotic relationship. The historians can keep a plantation or other historical area alive by documenting and sharing accurate and thorough tangible information. The legends and ballads are often based on these actual historical events and offer a deeply emotional link to these events. The ballads and stories have been passed down over the years from generation to generation.
In recent years, the histories and legends of an area can be accessed quicker than ever before. Today, a variety of media (the Internet, reality shows, books, etc.) is at our fingertips. We can learn of any location in a matter of minutes. A simple Google search can cause somebody to become interested in an area. At the very least, the topic can be blogged about or a link can be shared on a Facebook page.
If you pay attention to everything you see and hear when walking through a historical place, it can be nothing short of awe-inspiring. Recording an EVP or photographing an apparition is great enough. However, hearing the EVP and knowing the possible identity of the person that it belongs to brings the experience to a whole new level. It is absolutely awesome to see how everything is connected...history, legends, hauntings. In addition to the disembodied voices of Civil War soldiers or African American spirituals, if I listen very closely, I can almost hear Elton John singing "The Circle of Life" in the background right about now.