Brian Irby, with Arkansas State Archives in Little Rock, presented A Tour Around Haunted Southern Arkansas to the Union County Genealogical Society Sunday.
Irby became fascinated with a book called “Ozark Tales and Superstitions” when he was a child. Now that he is older, he finds that he is still interested in hauntings and superstitions. “Working with the state archives gives me a really good opportunity to dig through historical records to try to find any kind of historical basis for legends that happen around Arkansas,” he said.
Irby not only talked about a few haunted places in Arkansas, but also gave a historical background for the unexplainable stories.
The Allen House
Joseph L. Allen was born in 1863. He built his family home in 1900 in Monticello, Arkansas. He made a successful living as a horse trader. He and his wife Caddye were married in 1890 and had three children, Louise, Ladelle and Lewie. The house they were currently living in was too small for their family, so he decided to build the Allen House, which was contracted by Sylvester Hotchkiss.
Allen died of a heart attack in 1917, leaving his wife and three children to take care of the mansion. Allen’s daughter Ladelle married on November 28, 1914. The marriage didn’t last, resulting in divorce in 1927. The couple had one son, Allen Bonner. He was a journalist and moved to New York City, where he died young in 1944.
Ladelle moved back in with her mother in the Allen House. In 1948, Ladelle mysteriously took her life by drinking cyanide, leaving her in a comatose state for a few days, succumbing to death on Jan. 2, 1949. Her mother sealed off the room where Ladelle killed herself, but the reason was kept a private family secret.
When Caddye died in 1956, the house was bought by people who divided it into individual apartments for students at Southern Arkansas University. Over the years, more and more stories surfaced about strange events happening inside the residence.
People have heard the sounds of children playing downstairs, some have seen Ladelle’s reflection in mirrors and also unexplained crying and footsteps can be heard in the middle of the night.
The mystery concerning Ladelle’s suicide may have been solved when current owner, Mark Spencer, discovered a cache of letters written between Ladelle and a man named Prentiss Hemingway Savage, who lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ladelle and Prentiss had grown up together and were rekindling their friendship, which blossomed into an affair. Prentiss was married and according to their letters, broke off the affair at the end of 1948, which was the time of her suicide.
Spencer and his wife now open up their house in October to give haunted tours and sponsor dinners for those interested. Spencer has also written books about his house.
One of the bloodiest battles in Arkansas during the Civil War was fought near Camden, at Poison Spring. In 1864, General Frederick Steele’s plan was to make an assault on Shreveport, but was stopped by General Marmaduke’s Confederate army by an overwhelming force at Poison Spring. When trying to flee into the swamps, one unit in the fleeing Federal Army was cut down and there are many reports that the soldiers were scalped by Native American soldiers in the Confederate Army.
Ghosts of those fighting the battle are still reported to this day. There have been reports of strange noises at the battle field, the smell of gun powder and shouts in the middle of the woods.
In 1847, Peter McCollum, a native of North Carolina, settled in Camden from a land grant, where he built a house. In 1859, John Chidester, from New York, bought the house most people know as the Chidester House. He made his fortune through establishing mail routes into the western U.S.
During the Poison Spring massacre, General Steele used Chidester’s house as headquarters. Steele accused Chidester of being a spy for the Confederacy and using his mailing route to send information to Confederate officials.
Chidester was force to flee his home and move to Texas until the war was over. After the war, he returned to his home in Camden. Chidester died in 1892.
The family owned the home until 1963, when the Ouachita County Historical Society bought it.
Some have heard voices in the house including one that demands, “Get Out.”
“I talked to a person at the house who had been there for a year and had heard the same stories, but had never personally witnessed any unusual occurrences,” Irby said. “It could be Mr. Chidester keeping watch over his house, or it could be the spirits of those lost at Poison Spring.”
Old Presbyterian Cemetery
Located in El Dorado is one of the oldest cemeteries in the state called the Old Presbyterian Cemetery. The oldest burial dates from 1805. The cemetery contains many of El Dorado’s founding citizens, including William Lacy.
Lacy was said to love literature and to have been able to quote much of Shakespeare, the Bible and Sir Walter Scott by memory.
“Whether or not it is his ghost that haunts the cemetery, some people have felt a strange feeling in the old cemetery,” Irby said. “At some point, the railroad bought part of the cemetery and moved some of the bodies. Perhaps those people are the culprit.”
Woman in Black
In Arkadelphia, the annual Battle of the Ravine game between Ouachita Baptist and Henderson State that has been taking place since 1906. In the 1920s, a student named Jane from Ouachita started dating a man named Joshua from Henderson State. Because of the school rivalry, Joshua’s friends urged him to break off the relationship.
After breaking up with her, she discovered he asked another girl to the homecoming dance. Distraught, she dressed in all black and leaped off the ravine into the Ouachita River.
The woman’s ghost has been seen in Smith Hall on Henderson’s campus dressed in all black roaming the halls.
It is also legend that Jane haunts Cone Bottoms Hall on Ouachita’s campus.
Another ghost on Henderson’s campus is Simon who lives in Arkansas Hall, where theater is practiced. He is known to throw items down on stage and has been heard running from one side of the stage to the other.
The Gurdon Light can be seen while following an abandoned railroad track in rural Clark County. It is unknown when the ghost light legend began in Gurdon and the phenomenon is still a mystery.
The story many Clark County residents tell is there was a railroad foreman working on a train running through Gurdon. As the train came near the town, a worker on the train savagely attacked the foreman, severing his head in the attack. Now, brave souls traveling the railroad tracks can spot the ghost of the foreman who is swinging his lantern, looking for his head.
The only story on record that has elements that are true to this folklore is a murder that happened in 1931 on those tracks. A worker, Will McClain, was working on the tracks with two other men. There was an argument and one of the men headed back to Gurdon. A short time later, McClain and the other man, Louis McBride began to argue. McBride struck McClain in the head with a railroad spike maul, a heavy hammer-like tool, which almost decapitated his head.
McBride was documented working with McClain and confessed to the murder. He was later executed.
Scientist’s explanation for the light is swamp gas, which is decaying vegetation that can release gas and ignite in the air.
“I agree with the author of the Saline Currier article on the light from October 5, 2014, who after recounting the scientific explanations, ‘I know nothing about the scientific explanation, but frankly I prefer the supernatural one,’” Irby said. “Whether or not it is swamp gas or refracted light — or maybe even a headless railroad worker, it is there and not likely to go away.”
Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or email@example.com.