The SunLight Project Team had a little fun and brought together haunting stories from across the state, examining ghostly tales, otherworldly visitors and a cryptozoological phenomenon.
The line between fact and fiction is easily blurred when people start talking about "the supernatural." There are those who fight to prove it's real, those who believe it is all make believe and those who just enjoy the possibility that it could be true.
Or, in the words of the “Twilight Zone” : It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition and it lies between the pit of a man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.
Ghosts Come Out to Socialize
Charity Stanaland, a Moultrie resident, was trick-or-treating on Indian Lake Drive on Halloween night 2013. It was simple: go house to house, get the candy and, if the house was decorated well, take a picture of it. She expected nothing more and nothing less, but when she reviewed her pictures later, she found something mysterious in one.
“I was trying to make my camera flash by taking pictures of the houses we (were) riding by,” she said. “When I went home to upload pictures to my computer that picture appeared, and I was like who is that because no one was out walking where we were. It surprised me because I have never seen a spirit before. But I was excited. I used to not believe in spirits, but a lot of things have happened that I can't explain.”
Stanaland’s mother-in-law died Oct. 10, 2013, but shortly after her death, something woke Stanaland with a chilling touch. She said she believes it was her mother-in-law’s spirit.
“It was 5:12 in morning,” she said. “I pulled the covers up and there (were) raw peanuts on the bed, a pile at the foot of the bed, and all my kids and husband's shoes also had raw peanuts in them.”
The mother-in-law loved boiled peanuts, but the last time there were any in the house was two weeks before her death, when Stanaland’s brother-in-law made some for her.
“There (were) no peanuts left when she passed away,” she said. “They appeared out of nowhere. I took it as a good sign.”
Stanaland and her family still live in the home, but said every now and again a door will slowly close with no one there.
Poor old Elijah
A Boston tragedy that is very real are the deaths in the late 1940s of two Boston boys on railroad tracks. The boys had gone to the area to fish on each side of the tracks just west of Boston. The official word was the boys were struck by a train and killed. Their bodies were found on train tracks.
A Boston native, Tony Herring has walked the woods near the tracks many times and fished where the doomed boys fished. Herring recalls the area as a spot he has known and frequented since childhood.
"No doubt about it, somebody killed them boys," Herring said.
A Boston story told as the truth provides the perfect nighttime visual capable of destroying someone's psyche.
In Boston lived a boy named William, a nice guy. He was a huge boy, even at 12 and 13, and much bigger than other boys his age who decided to rattle him, Herring said.
A new water tower had been erected on the south side of town. One of the smaller boys in the group ran off crying one night and climbed the water tower.
Unbeknownst to the big guy, two other boys — Welby and Cool Breeze — were already on the tower. Out of nowhere a floodlight shone on the crying boy, who is standing at the edge of the tower, saying he just could not take it anymore.
The boy's coat was put on a mannequin that was sent sailing to the ground. William stood speechless, stunned and afraid in the dark. He suggested they throw the body in a nearby creek.
"What do you mean you're going to dump my body in the creek at Twin Bridge?" a deep, ghostly voice asked. Little did William know the boy he thought was dead was actually hiding behind a nearby car.
William ran from the scene so fast no one could catch him to tell him it was a joke.
“We were worried about him," Herring said. "He disappeared and hid in the woods. He came out two days later when he got hungry.”
Now imagine growing up in Boston, in a house that previously was a service station and sleeping in a room where a man was killed, and living with and listening to the eerie calls in the night from the dead man — Elijah.
Herring was the boy who heard about the killing and Elijah’s ghost, not to mention bedding down every night at the death scene. Herring is now in his mid-50s, but the ghost and cries in the night continue to haunt him.
When the service station, west of the city on Old 84, was in its heyday in the 1940s, a bar was established in it. Bar was a nice way to describe what it really was — a juke joint of the worst kind, Herring said.
The boy was told about Elijah being shot and killed in what had become his bedroom. The boy believed it. He lived it every night when the lights went out, and his household became still and quiet.
When the moon was full, Herring said, he would look out the window of his room and see someone walking along nearby railroad tracks, carrying a lantern and calling Elijah in a creepy, drawn-out voice.
The Georgia Magnet
Another less than friendly apparition is that of Dixie Haygood, better known at “The Little Georgia Magnet.”
She placed a curse on her grave, which is located in Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville, before she left the Earth, according to a compilation of information from the Milledgeville Convention and Visitors Bureau and Friends of Memory Hill Cemetery.
Haygood, who married at age 17, decided the wife life wasn't for her and performed her first show in 1885 to show off her special “skills" after being inspired by the "magic" of Lulu Hurst.
Her act was simple: she held a billiard cue in one hand while a group of men tried to force the billiard cue to the ground. They would also try to lift her off the ground and were unsuccessful. Every. Single. Time.
She gained a bit of fame around Milledgeville and was called a psychic and a witch.
She soon started her own traveling show and, under the stage name Annie Abbott, traveled around the country and even to Europe and earned the famous name “The Little Georgia Magnet.”
After a couple of losses in love, she returned in 1894 with a celebrity status. However, at the height of her fame, the even-more-famous journalist Nellie Bly revealed the truth behind Haygood's act. She could only complete the trick by placing herself in a position to where the men were using their force against themselves. Bly called it the trick of equilibrium.
Haygood had to move with her son, Fred, to New Jersey to avoid judgment and a possible perjury arrest. She moved to Macon in 1912 where she soon found herself in hot water when her own son pulled a pistol and threatened her life. In court, her son denied the allegations and took out a writ of lunacy on her, landing her in jail for 13 days.
She died three years later in 1915, but, according to the tale, just before her spirit left, she cursed her grave so anyone who stood between her grave and the sun would be cursed.
A Wink and a scare
While the “curse” on Haygood's grave may have a slight explanation, what occurs within the walls of the Wink Theatre seems to have no reasoning.
Built more than 70 years ago, the Wink Theatre is said to be Dalton’s first air-conditioned building, and generations of Daltonians have fond memories of Friday nights and Saturday afternoons spent watching movies there.
But for those who worked at the Wink in its heyday as a theater, it’s known for something else.
“People who have worked there over the years have reported a number of ghostly happenings,” said Jim Miles, author of “Haunted North Georgia.”
“Nobody has actually seen a person, but one person said she saw a dark shape and then the film started to unravel from the reels,” he said.
But Miles said most of the paranormal activity reported through the years concerned sound.
“For example, during some renovations, a worker was doing some hammering. He stopped, but the hammering sound continued,” Miles said.
Dale Hurst lived with those sounds for a long time. His father, Leon, took over as manager of the Wink in 1971.
Hurst said his father would routinely hear children playing outside his office inside the theater.
And Hurst said he had his own experiences with the bizarre. He recalled one afternoon when he’d just finished a “changeover,” turning off one movie reel and turning on another, and returned to the balcony to watch the movie.
“I had an old metal stool in the projection room,” he said. “And it sounded to me like somebody had picked that stool up and was just beating the crap out of the projection room. Bam! Bam! Bam! I ran back in. And nothing was out of place. It was just like I left it.”
Hurst was also the janitor who had to clean up at the end of the night.
“One night I was down front, sweeping up. And the aisles of the Wink are pretty steep. I had my back turned, and it sounded like somebody running down the aisle,” he said. “They sounded really clumsy. It sounded like they came right up behind me. I turned around, and there was nobody there.”
Hurst said the theater opened back in the 1940s.
“It had a lot of wood in it. It had an old boiler. That can explain a lot of the noises. But there were also a lot I just can’t explain,” he said.
Burnt Church tales
Lakeland is home to an infamous tale that has been debunked by actual history.
Tales of what happened at Burnt Church vary pending who is telling the story, but the most common ghost story seems to be one about an elegant teacher who came to town back when the church was used as a schoolhouse.
It was said that once she began teaching the children of the town, they began acting out. Soon followed accusations of children dancing in the woods and reciting the Lord's Prayer backward, leading one townsperson to accuse the teacher of being a witch and burning down the school with the teacher and students inside.
It is said that late at night, the voices of those burned can still be heard and one might even catch a glimpse of the weary spirits wandering.
However, this is merely a fable.
The real story behind Burnt Church is rooted more in history.
The area was known as the Tallokas District of South Georgia and was home to native Indians, according to the Lakeland-Lanier Chamber of Commerce website. Union Primitive Baptist Church was one of the first churches constituted in the area and was formed in October 1825.
The church sat on an Indian trail that ran from the Chattahoochee to the Okefenokee and, in 1836, as a band of Creek Indians passed on their way to join the Seminoles at Noochee, they set fire to the church.
The church was not completely destroyed and part of the remaining beams were used in its reconstruction. After this event, it became known as “Burnt Church.”
Union Primitive Baptist Church, or "Burnt Church," recently reopened for services after a hiatus of about 20 years. Services are held on the Saturday before the second Sunday at 3 p.m. To get to the church, turn south on Highway 135 (Oak Street), then turn left onto East Burnt Church Road and the church is approximately one mile down the road.
"I have been informed that there are common beliefs that the church is haunted. We'd like to think that it's haunted by the spirit of God. That's what we feel when we come here," John Crowley, an elder at Union Primitive Baptist Church, said.
So far, the church has encountered nothing in the bad supernatural sense, only in the good, Crowley said.
Pages of a ghost
While buildings are believed to be the most common sites for hauntings, on occasion, a spirit can attach to an object.
Daniel Townsend learned the Tifton-Tift County Public Library is host to a ghost book.
Townsend said his encounter happened while in high school and his Honors English class was reading “The Crucible,” which dealt with witch trials in the early 1800s.
As part of the assignment, the class was told to create a board game with “The Crucible” being the thematic element.
Townsend said he, along with his group, went to the library in the evening to look for relevant materials.
“It took us a while to find any materials relevant to the witch trials, but we eventually found a literally dusty tome about witchcraft and the ways to find a witch,” Townsend said. “Likely it was someone’s modern transcription of a 'Malleus Maleficarum.'"
The original “Malleus Malificarum,” usually translated as “Hammer of the Witches,” was written in 1487 by Heinrich Kramer. It was the first comprehensive compilation of what was known about supposed witches and demons. It was used as a primer for the torture and execution of people suspected of being witches.
Townsend and his two classmates were sitting in a booth with a hanging overhead light so they could look at their books. He said when they opened that particular book, the overhead light began to flicker. The light continued to flicker until they closed the book.
When asked about a haunted book in the stacks, Victoria Horst, branch manager, said she has no knowledge of such a book, but said the library is always excited to see its patrons, corporeal or otherwise.
UFOs: The Truth is Out There?
Project Blue Book was a study of sightings of unidentified objects over the U.S. from 1949-69 operated by the United States Air Force.
It was eventually shuttered with the Air Force stating no UFO investigation turned up a threat to national security, evidence of advanced scientific knowledge or proof of extraterrestrial vehicles.
Project Blue Book concluded most UFO sightings were misidentified aircraft or a natural phenomena. However, a small percentage went down as “unexplained” or “insufficient” data, including at least one Lowndes County incident.
Blackvault.com owner John Greenewald Jr. posted many of the declassified documents to his website which was reported by The Valdosta Daily Times in February 2015.
The first 1949 incident took place in early July and is also mentioned in the book “Weird Georgia” written by Jim Miles.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations document is dated Sept. 14, 1949, and had the name of the woman who claimed to see the object in question blacked out. She reported to The Valdosta Daily Times she had seen “a bright, reddish object in the southeast section of Valdosta, Georgia.” This is corroborated in Miles' book where he writes a woman at this time reported a “red flying saucer standing still.”
The OSI report mentions “Residence check of Mrs. ------ revealed that she is a trustworthy though very excitable, nervous, sickly and thought to have a great deal of imagination.”
While the report states no other person reported seeing this object, Miles' book indicates a similar object was seen throughout the state, including Atlanta, Augusta and Macon throughout 1948-49.
One of the most extensively documented UFO sightings in the Valdosta area was first reported by The Valdosta Daily Times in its July 19-20, 1949, issues, just 12 days after the previous woman's claims.
“Valdostan Sights Illuminated Object in Midnight Skies” read the headline for an article where local engraver Ed Hopkins claimed to have seen an object “he described as a reddish-orange ball of fire which acted very much like a V-2” and which seemed to move quickly at first before slowing down.
The article stated Hopkins had seen two V-2 rockets, the world's first ballistic long-range missile, launched in Germany while serving with the U.S. Army in World War II. Hopkins said “the object last night resembled those launchings.”
He witnessed the object southeast of Valdosta and followed it for several minutes using “high-powered field glasses.” The article mentioned someone also calling The Times and claiming he had seen a “fiery object” in the sky.
A followup article ran in the paper July 20 when a local police officer named J.B. Hughes reported he and several other officers saw the same object during their shift change. Although no other names were listed, the article stated several other people had contacted The Times to “corroborate the report made by Ed Hopkins yesterday.”
The Air Force OSI document on this event with blacked-out names stated, “With Mr. ---- knowledge of a German V2 rocket that he did not see the object itself, but that the yellow object that he saw was a flare from an unknown object.”
An added paragraph about the witness states a residence check revealed he “is of excelled reputation, scientific minded, very precise in his work and a non-drinker.”
The conclusion of the paper reads “There is a rumor in Valdosta, Ga., that the government has an experimental laboratory located on the Florida Coast, south of Valdosta, Ga.” This rumor proved to be true as the Joint Long Range Proving Grounds were established at Cape Canaveral on Florida's coast in 1949 for missile testing.
In the end, the July 19, 1949, UFO case for Valdosta was labeled “insufficient evidence” by the Air Force.
A member of the Air Force Band based at Moody AFB was the subject of an unclassified Air Intelligence Report dated Aug. 5, 1952 in which the airman claimed to have seen several unidentified flying objects in the area of Lakeland.
“An interview with the airman disclosed that he had seen three objects, at various altitudes and distances from his point of observation, and that because of their odd flying characteristics, he made special efforts to follow their course and maneuvers.”
“Weird Georgia” also has an account from an airman on Jan. 28, 1953, when a pilot took off in an F-86 for a “routine flight from Moody Air Force Base to Lawson Field at Fort Benning, where he would turn east to Robins Air Force Base and return home” as he was accumulating flight hours.
The book states the pilot saw unusually bright lights which he thought could be an aircraft or a star, but it's shape didn't seem to fit either explanation. He chose to go toward the object, which began changing from a white light to red then back to white, repeating this cycle every two seconds. He noted the object had changed from a circular shape to a perfect triangle that then split into two triangles, one above the other. Then, it vanished.
“It was just like someone turning off a light,” the pilot said. “It's there, then it's gone.”
Miles' book further states once the pilot called the ground radar operator to report he would have to return to Valdosta due to the large use of fuel during the experience, the operator confirmed they'd also witnessed the entire strange incident on radar.
Edward Ruppert, the head of Blue Book, recorded the pilot's experiences, and the pilot told Ruppert he just “couldn't swallow those stories about flying saucers” and wrote the experience off as a case of vertigo.
Even Georgia's own POTUS Jimmy Carter had a run-in with a UFO. History.com states in an article titled “Jimmy Carter files report on UFO sighting” that on Sept. 18, 1973, Carter filed a report with the National Investigations Committee claiming he'd seen an unidentified flying object while waiting outside a Lion's Club Meeting in Leary, Ga.
Carter's experience is also referenced in the book “Weird Georgia” where Chief Investigator of the Center for UFO Studies Allan Hendry and UFO skeptic Robert Sheaffer calculated the position of Venus in relation to when Carter claims to have seen the UFO. This position lined up almost perfectly with Carter's location.
Shaeffer wrote in “The Humanist” in 1973 it is “not all that uncommon for atmospheric conditions to create the illusion the president saw. Many people misinterpret Venus.”
He went on to note that many highly trained and responsible people including airplane pilots, scientists, police officers and military personnel have been known to make the same mistake.
The Beloved Skunk Ape
According to an excerpt from the book “Weird Georgia,” in 1951 Boston, a woman walked outside one night to see what had her dogs barking, only to find a “giant, manlike creature” on her porch.
A gunshot from her husband's gun sent the unidentified creature running into the woods.
The book further states the creature dodged another bullet from the woman's stepfather who claimed to see the seven-foot-tall man peering through the window of his cabin and disappeared again into the night. The next morning, the stepfather found 20-inch-long tracks outside his home.
The same story can be found on bigfootencounters.com and is possibly tied to the infamous Skunk Ape.
The sightings span an odd amount of years with that report occurring in 1950 and then more sightings in Clinch and Brooks counties in the late 2000s.
A 2010 Valdosta Daily Times article seemed to briefly reignite the topic. Two callers, one woman only referred to as “Joy” and a man who asked to have his name withheld, reached out to The Times to discuss their creature sightings in Brooks County.
Joy claimed while driving along Highway 37 on the evening of April 21, 2010, she saw a hairy creature she estimated to be about six feet tall walking away from the road and into the woods. The male caller claimed on April 30, 2010, he was sitting on his porch at his home three miles outside of Quitman where he saw something walk out of the wood between 10-11 a.m.
Using binoculars, he noted the creature stood at least six-feet tall with red hair fading into brown and gray. While watching the creature, he claimed it leaned one arm against a tree, scratched its left calf with its right foot then ran away. He said he believed the creature to be an omnivore and made it a point to no longer go into the woods without a weapon.
“If I’m calling, there’s probably nine other people who’ve seen it who haven’t said a word to anyone,” he told The Times, “because they don’t want people thinking they’re crazy.”
Whether all these witnesses have stories with logical explanations that have not been found or have seen things that are literally out of this world is yet to be discovered.
The SunLight team consists of Natalie Linder, Patti Dozier, Kevin Hall, Charles Oliver, Eve Copeland-Brechbiel and Desiree Carver.
Desiree Carver is a reporter at the Valdosta Daily Times. She can be reached at (229) 244-3400 ext. 1215.