Travel: Charlotte (Haunted Edition)
With Halloween right around the corner I've decided to put a little spooky spin on a city that's rapidly becoming a more and more popular travel destination. Charlotte, North Carolina is turning into one of the jewels of the east coast, and for good reason. It's exciting and clean, with tall buildings and plenty of lively, eclectic neighborhoods without being so built up that it's overwhelming.
One of my favorite pastimes around the Halloween season is to go on ghost tours in the cities I happen to be visiting. Having called Charlotte home at various times in my life, I decided to see if there were any morbid secrets the Queen City was harboring. Despite my initial doubts, it didn't disappoint.
Contrary to popular belief, the Queen City was not named after a queen at all. Charlotte was King George's daughter, but actually never became a queen. The politics of the day kept her from ascending to that lofty role. But this misnomer was only the beginning of Charlotte's many surprises.
In the middle of uptown - it's called uptown, not downtown, because from the heart of the city you travel downhill in every direction - there is a very out of place cemetery among the soaring towers. Old Settlers Cemetery was founded in 1776 across the street from First Presbyterian church. According to legend, when Sherman's march neared the city toward the end of the civil war the church had reason to hide its silver and other valuables. A custodian named Ambrose tunneled across the street, under the cemetery, and hid the silver in a hollow he carved under a magnificent oak tree. He was sent to retrieve the valuables when the threat had passed. Upon leaving the hollow for the final time the tunnel caved in, burying Ambrose under the city's oldest graveyard.
Old Settlers Cemetery is bordered by buildings that now house luxury condos on two sides. One of the buildings, on the corner of Fifth Street and Poplar, served as a military hospital during the Civil War. Allegedly, the ghosts of the hospital's patients can still be heard throughout the building at night, slamming doors, knocking on walls, and occasionally screaming in unmitigated agony.
The adjacent building was once St. Peter's Medical School during the nineteenth century. During that time period donating your body to science was "heavily frowned upon", so cadavers were supplied to the medical school for a fee principally by grave robbers. According to lore, a young girl was found dead near Charlotte and her body was sold to the school. When her ghost began haunting students in the building, police and city authorities found her body buried among a heap of decaying cadavers in the school's basement. Her tormented ghost is still said to haunt the building.
The Dunhill Hotel on Tryon Street was once patronized by the likes of Elvis Pressley along with traveling vaudeville shows that frequented Charlotte before going out of business around the time of the Great Depression. When the depression hit in the 1930's, the hotel was abandoned and taken over by squatters. During renovations some fifty years later a human skeleton nicknamed "Dusty" was found in the elevator shaft. No one knows how it got there.
Speaking of buildings patronized by American legends, George Washington attended a church service at St. Peter's Episcopal Church two blocks down Tryon Street when he visited Charlotte. The very same church, which is still standing today in its original form, was playing host to Jefferson Davis in the spring of 1865 when he learned that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated.
Across the street stands an elegant Baptist church that was once the domain of the well-known evangelist, Billy Graham. No longer a church and since converted into a theater, piano music can still be heard emanating from the walls, even when nobody is inside. It's said that every theater has a ghost. Common practice dictates that a "ghost light" - a single bulb illuminating center stage - is left on every night after dark. Ghosts have allegedly been spotted in this church-turned-theater, presumably taking advantage of a chance to bask in the spotlight from beyond the grave.
A stretch of popular bars and nightlife spots in the heart of uptown are also said to have plenty of hauntings of their own. These buildings, mostly all historic, have played host to a number of oddities over the decades.
The manager of Dandelion Market, a popular two-story bar, was said to have heard a loud thud on the roof one night after closing. Fearing the worst, he dashed onto the roof to check things out and found...absolutely nothing. But surveillance footage did surface that same night of his laptop suddenly flying across the upstairs bar while the chandelier shook uncontrollably.
The bar Tilt was once a haberdashery and is - you guessed it - haunted. The ghost of the old, deceased owner appears from time to time with a hat tilted low over his forehead. When the space was occupied by a hippie bar called The Lava Lamp in the sixties, he would appear disgruntled and menacing at the rear of the bar. A change of theme later on saw the apparition adjust his demeanor considerably.
Perhaps the most haunted building in all of uptown Charlotte is currently occupied by an Irish bar called RiRa. Things have frequently been caught on camera moving of their own accord inside the building. A small girl who once lived there wrote the letters "A B C" on an upstairs wall. To this day they allegedly can't be removed, scrubbed off, or painted over. To see more about RiRa's hauntings, check out this footage shot by the paranormal investigators, First in Fright.
So, Charlotte, North Carolina really does have more in the way of legitimate history and hauntings than I really could have ever imagined. There are centuries-old churches and other structures hiding in plain sight among the skyscrapers. And if you're lucky and happen to be in Old Settlers Cemetery at midnight you might just catch a glimpse of a ghost yourself. If you do, be sure to get a picture!
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