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Ghost stories thrill at library

By Tyler Hargett for the FCT

Getting into the Halloween “spirit” comes in several forms. Some choose to watch scary movies at home, visit local haunted houses and cemeteries and, of course, dress up in a costumes and eat candy. However, the Russellville Public Library chose a different approach: the ancient art of ghost-story telling.

Oct. 28, the library was visited by Alabama historian Jim Phillips, who is known for his talks on Alabama antebellum history. He has spoken at several senior church clubs, retirement villages, historical societies and libraries across the South. In talking about his presentation of ghost stories, he revealed that this is still fairly new to him.

“This my third October in doing ghost stories. What I enjoy about them is that they have real history in them,” he said.

One story Phillips told was of the Cunningham Stamps House near Montevallo, the former home of couple Joseph and Elizabeth Cunningham. After both his second son and wife died not too far apart, Joseph had a mausoleum constructed over their graves. However, it was eventually destroyed during the Civil War by Union soldiers looking for treasure. The boy’s grave was also desecrated in search for a gold ring. It is now said that Elizabeth’s ghost haunts the cemetery, hoping to protect her son from any more intruders.

The talk consisted not only of ghost stories from the South but also old slave stories, information about the Salem Witch Trials and vampire lore. Lavaga Logan, one of the attendees who had heard Phillips speak before, was “very entertained,” hoping to “get some good ghost stories before Halloween.”

“He is an extraordinary storyteller,” she said. “Ghost stories interest me and when you hear about them, you learn history, which also interests me.”

Logan said she doesn’t believe in ghosts but had an eerie encounter in her life that she was happy to share.

“About 20 years ago, me and my sister were driving to Houston for Christmas,” Logan recounted. “We were still in Alabama, right before you get to the Mississippi state line, riding down the interstate. It was foggy and misty. I looked at my rearview mirror, which had gotten foggy-looking, and a skull and crossbones had formed on it. She saw it too, but we didn’t say anything to each other. I then thought to myself, ‘We’re real close to Carrollton, where the courthouse is.'”

That courthouse (the Pickens County Courthouse) is known for an image in one of its windows that is said to be the face of freed slave Henry Wells. It is told that after being arrested for burning down the old courthouse and locked in the newly-constructed one, lightning struck nearby, etching his terrified face into the window. According to sources, the window has never been destroyed by a storm, and the face cannot be washed off.

Even though Halloween has come to a close, stories of spirits roaming the earth will never truly go away. They will remain in the minds of individuals who, whether looking for a good scary story or some good history, will continue to pass them on to others as the years go by.