Weekly Haunted Spot #3:
Location: Perkins County, Georgia.
Spectral Wedding, Haunted Church.
(Photo Credit: Coal Campus. Stotesbury, West Virginia. Coal Camp homes).
For the last few months, I have been helping my partner, Samuel, conduct legal proceedings to enforce a visitation order that he was granted eight years ago by the Wyoming County Family Court in West Virginia to be able to see his son. In the process of doing so, we have made several trips to West Virginia. Each time we do so, we get a glimpse of the past, the past of the small towns and communities that we pass through on our way to places like Kimball and Pineville.
The past is painfully evident in these areas, small places with no big corporations to rob them of their history, a history that was often written in blood, sweat and tears, inexorably tied to the many coal mines that dot the majestic mountains of the area. Small coal town houses, all built in a similar style in rows with a church or two or even three popping up in the middle of town, mostly Baptist but also rarely Catholic or Methodist. As a writer, photographer and paranormal investigator, places that grab my interest are just such places, place where stories have never been told, histories never explored and folklore forgotten by all but those who lived it day in and day out.
These places with their abandoned homes, collapsed buildings, ancient mines and gray rainy skies allow you to feel the energy around you, the spirits of those who came before, as easily as you can smell the occasional whiff of sulfur on the misty mountain air.
On our trips up into the coal mining towns of West Virginia, one thing above all became readily apparent.
The faith in God or the prevalence of God in these towns was overwhelmingly clear by the sheer number of churches that we came across, all but a few functioning. From the huge brick Methodist church in town, to the hauntingly alluring abandoned primitive Pentecostal church built into the steep mountain side, the importance of faith to the families who lived in those coal towns was unmistakable. We counted more than thirty-eight churches between us, covering the area between Princeton to Pineville, with some towns having more than two, to some towns that had three or four on the same street, side by side.
Churches are an important part of our lives. For many of us, they are the locations of some of the most significant life-events we have in American culture, following us from birth and baptisms, to weddings and new life, to the inevitable, funerals and our own mortality. It is no wonder that churches are like many other structures, retaining some of the expended emotional energy that is released within their walls. Having been to several churches, the energy expended inside them is enormous, more so the deeper south and the deeper into the mountains one goes, as Christianity often mixes with old Appalachian magic and folk remedies, the more powerful it becomes.
For this week’s haunted location, I would like to take us to such a church, a small primitive Baptist church located near Jasper, Georgia, the seat of Pickens County. It is a location of interest mostly to locals for a quick scare, much like east Tennessee’s own infamous teenage scare spot, Sensabaugh Tunnel. The church is white with a simple rock foundation common to many mountain churches with an tall ornate steeple that reaches to the sky. As is customary for the area, a gravel road encircles the church and the old graveyard.
(Photo Credit: Glynn Wilson, Cades Cove, Tennessee, Primitive Church.)
It is said that on moonless nights, if one should have the courage, there is a ritual one may perform to interact with the spirits of the dead at this unassuming church.
All one has to do, is drive up to the church, park, cut the car’s engine and get out, using no flashlights, in the total darkness, and begin walking up to the church. Walking around the church and graveyard, you need to circle it three times around the gravel path, and then approach the church from the east window closest to the front door and if you have the guts to stay this long, peer into the window, through the glass and a sight will appear that will shock and amaze you.
Inside the dark church, a glowing spectral wedding is being conducted with a pale bride in a flowing white gown, a groom dressed in his military best, their attendants and a minister in the dark trappings of his vestments. There is no one in the pews and beyond the spectral bride and groom, the church is empty. If one remains quiet long enough, faint music will be heard, but never a voice lifted in song or laughter, never in conversation. The slightest sound is supposed to cause the vision to go away and soon, the apparitions fade away of their own accord.
Now, if you have a flashlight, the rumor goes, you must take that light and go into the graveyard. There, near the east window and a bit to the south, is a tombstone made of pink marble. It is engraved thus:
MISS JULIA RENAULT
BORN JUNE 22, 1898
DIED JUNE 24, 1917
Looking to the right of the tombstone will reveal a somewhat smaller tombstone, a Government Issue type and it reads:
CORPORAL JOHN SYMMONDS
BORN DECEMBER 11, 1895
AT THE BATTLE OF CHATEU-THIERRY
BURIED AT FLANDERS FIELDS, FRANCE
The wedding in the church that one is supposed to be able to witness is one that never got to take place, between Julia and her fiancé, Corporal Symmonds.
Is this story true? Does the ritual work?
Fact checking this story turned up very little to go on. I could not track down the story on any haunted places site, local ghost story or historical site or blog. I could not also find the name of the church in question, nor could I find any record of Julia or Corporal Symmonds. I did find a grave search site for Flanders Field, but unfortunately, had no luck there either. The Battle of Chateau-Thierry was a vicious, unplanned and deadly military action, that claimed the lives of some 67,000 US troops, many of their bodies were never returned home and thus it is not surprising that some records may be lost.
(Flanders Fields Cemetery, France).
As for the ritual, it is most likely an urban legend grown out of the romanticism of true love gone unrealized or broken, the fairy tale sadness that strikes when very real tragedy takes those we love from us far too soon. How often does one hear the story of the waiting lady whose brave fiancé, the soldier, has gone off to war only to never return while she waits eternally for him to return, which of course, he never does.
Sitting here with the cat, waiting on Sammy to get home, makes this story take on an all too real feeling.
Thinking back on those trips into those now snow and ice covered mountains where so many churches lay, I wonder, what tragedies and heartbreaks have they witnessed? What joyous moments and somber reflections lay within their walls, tales waiting to be told, waiting to be listened to?
Churches are not immune to being haunted. They are places where emotions, positive and negative run extremely high, where the worlds of the spiritual and the mortal collide, nexuses of faith and belief. The next time you go to church, if you do, stop for a moment in the aisle, and listen…feel. What do you sense? What history lies in the elders that you have not yet tapped?
If you are not a person who goes to church, go into a small town church, an older one. Look around you. See the faces that come and believe and wonder what their story is.
High in the mountains, draped in snow and ice, dark woods all around, over looking an old coal town, stands an empty church long forgotten, its dark windows eyes and its open doors, long rotted away. As the wind blows through it, the sound of a bell tolls gently and is gone, like it never existed and the old church is again silent except for those who listen and seek.
Burchill, J., Crider, L., Kendrick, P., & Bonner, M. (1993). Ghost and haunts from the Appalachian foothills. “Churches” (p. 42-47). Nashville: Rutledge Press.
Homsher, D. (2006). Legends and Traditions of the Great War: The Battle of Chateau-Thierry. Retrieved January, 27, 2013, from http://www.worldwar1.com/heritage/chthierry.htm