What happened today, September 18, 1947? The National Security Act of 1947 meeting confronted the need for a military reorganization and it combined and replaced the former Department of the Navy and War Department with a single cabinet-level Department of Defense. The act also created the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the AIR FORCE. The purpose was to unify the military branches into a federated structure.
Twelve years after the horror of 9/11, we seem to be no better off as a nation. Hate is at an all-time high, especially now that hate comes in the guise of intolerance to intolerance. We bully and blaspheme those in the name of equality, we kill children in our schools and blame the weapons we hold in our hand or the harsh words said to us by someone else, we start wars based on convenient principals, and we are no closer to the dreams of Dr. King. We should look back on the day that we stood as a nation, a united nation, and came together with a common idea that neighbors helped neighbors and we all held hands, no matter the color of our skin, our sexual preference, our religion, or our political beliefs. I pray we strive to find this unity once again in our nation and as human beings in this world.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath…Open them to step back in time. Drive down the winding road, covered by the canopy of Alabama trees and pull to the doors of this wicked shell of the past. Take another deep breath as the trapped souls of Bryce Mental Hospital call out with demented laughter and grasp at your fear with impregnable strength.
A poorhouse is defined as a publicly maintained institution offering accommodation to the poor at public expense. Populations at these facilities boomed in the early 1800’s and conditions became deplorable. Workers were incapable of caring for many residents who were considered mentally ill, and these residents were often kept in pens or chained to the walls like animals. The answer to these conditions was to build large institutions to care for those in need. Built much like a warehouse or factory, these institutions were built to care for hundreds of people at one time. Row after row of beds
Dorthea Lynde Dix (1802-1887), the once superintendent of the United States Army Nurses, became an advocate for improvements in the treatment of mentally ill patients. In 1849, Dix, along with Alabama governor Henry W. Collier and Senator Robert Jemison, Jr. lobbied to establish a state psychiatric hospital in Alabama. An act was passed in 1852 and the “Alabama Insane Hospital” was erected on 326 acres in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Peter Bryce was elected to be the first superintendent. Bryce was a physician and a psychiatric pioneer. During his reign, he abolished straightjackets and restraints and insisted on the kind and dignified treatment of patients. Bryce opted to provide the mentally ill and handicapped with work opportunities, such as gardening and farming; many of these opportunities helped fund the hospital. Because of this revenue, the state reduced funding to the hospital. On his death in 1892, the hospital was re-named Bryce Hospital in his honor and he was buried on the hospital’s grounds.
By 1970, there became a concern that many long-term residents were kept there for nothing more than free labor and reports of abuse and deplorable conditions came to the forefront. By this time, Bryce had around 5,200 patients and the Montgomery Advertiser likened the condition to concentration camps.
In October of 1970, Ricky Wyatt, a “juvenile delinquent” who was housed at Bryce, despite no mental illness, became the plaintiff in a lawsuit that quickly became a class-action suit. Many testified to the terrible treatment and terrible conditions. It took 33 years for the case to be resolved. Judge Myron Thompson of Alabama claimed the state was finally in compliance to a minimum standard of care and dismissed the suit.
Despite an outcome to the case, many who suffered and died at Bryce may not be so happy with the results. In 2008, the facility lay abandoned and in ruins, but once inside the walls of Bryce and the neighboring Jemison center, you could hear voices and laughter, feelings of dread and lunacy, comfort and sadness emanated down the halls. Audible recordings of an intercom and a nurse calling for a doctor as well as the wicked laughter fore were collected by the Alabama Paranormal Research Team. They report there was fear, but for the living more than the dead. Many squatters had been known to frequent the place as well as thrill seekers and drunkards alike. APRT reported both buildings to be in shambles, asbestos rotting floors were a constant threat. There have been undocumented reports in the Jemison center’s surgical wing of being thrown by an unseen force by other paranormal teams who visited the location. APRT has documented video and photographs of someone being scratched by an unseen force while they were there.
They also reported that there were spikes on a tri-field meter (a device that measures electromagnetic energy) when the question was asked if the person they were speaking to was disobedient to their husband. The question was then asked to the woman, “why are you here” and the recorded response was “because I am queer”. The evidence gathered pointed to a woman who was sent to Bryce by her husband when it was discovered she was homosexual.
A question was also asked “would you like me to move” and an EVP responding “you may have to.” Undocumented personal experiences of hearing a tune of “trailers for sale or rent” as well as a British voice have been reported as well by members of APRT. It was later discovered one of the workers at old Bryce was from England. Black shadows in the shapes of small animals and men were seen and a strange whiff of death and decay would often sneak up on the team members.
It is off-putting and disturbing to see a sign that says fire exit only and to follow the stairs to a four cell wing with iron doors and bars (like a jail) and NO EXIT. Perhaps these cells were purposely hidden away from visitors. APRT tem members stated when they walked into that wing, many of them felt the pressure and fear that even the most hopeless of the mentally ill felt while in these small rooms.
The future of Bryce hospital seems clear to continue under better conditions, but the fate of the old facility and the lost souls that died within its walls seemed doomed for eternity. The land has now been gated off to avoid liability of danger to trespassers and thrill seekers. It seems that the spirits of Bryce may be spared the constant threat of the three-ring circus that has befallen the paranormal community thanks to the constant police presence; but perhaps that is of little comfort to those doomed to spend eternity in a state of mental-illness and despair. To read more about Bryce and more haunted locations in Tuscaloosa, check out Haunted Tuscaloosa by David Higdon and Brett Talley, available at all major bookstores or at historypress.net.
On July 31, 1975, 38 years ago today, James Riddle Hoffa disappeared and has never been heard from again. Jimmy Hoffa was an American labor leader, and became head of the Teamsters in 1957. There was great animosity with Hoffa and then US attorney general, Robert Kennedy, and many claim that Bobby Kennedy was “out to get Hoffa”. He went to prison for bribery, but his sentence was commuted by president Richard Nixon with the deal he would not have ties with the unions for 10 years. He planned to fight this ruling in court when he disappeared from a parking lot of a restaurant in Detroit, MI, he was thought to be a victim of a mafia hit.
Conspiracy theorists claim the Kennedy’s were also involved with the mafia and some claim Bobby Kennedy had the mafia exact his revenge on the teamster. Hoffa’s body has never been found. Many theorize where Hoffa was buried. Some even believe he’s buried at Giant’s stadium. Others believe he was put into witness protection after rolling on the mob.
The truth is, nobody knows, and those who do aren’t talking.
Introducing my second publication, “Legends, Lore & True Tales of the Chattahoochee”! Dive into the mystery that is the Chattahoochee River, one of Florida, East Alabama and West Georgia’s greatest treasures! Learn about the cryptids, shapeshifters, and large monsters that inhabit the Chattahoochee area, sleep with your nightlight on as you read about the ghosts from Brookside Drive and Huggin’ Molly, delve deep into African American and Native American folklore and historical accounts from the Creek Wars, Indian Removal, and even Sherman’s march to the Sea. Pre-order your copy today!
The USS Hartford was launched on November 22, 1858. This Screw sloop-of-war ship saw its fair share of battle, fame and glory. With twenty-three Commanding officers aboard during her ninety eight year life-span, she saw ups and downs, fires and renovations before being named a relic and finally dismantled. But all her glory left a lasting impression on life, and apparently even on death.
The USS Hartford was a significant and remarkable ship. She was a flag ship in Shanghai and Manila before being called home to serve the Union Navy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in December 1861. She maintained her position as the flag ship, this time for Admiral David Farragut. Farragut was described as colorful and bold, and sometimes out right crazy. Farragut ran the West Gulf Blockading Squadron with the Hartford, running past Fort Jackson, Fort St. Philip, and the Chalmette batteries; she took the city and port of New Orleans by April 1962. Farragut almost lost the Hartford at Fort St. Philip. The Confederate tug “Mosher” laid a fire raft beside the Hartford and set her on fire. The signal officer on the Hartford dropped a few shells on the fire raft and blew it up. Hosed down, the USS Hartford continued up river with her port beam still smoldering. After taking heat for major battle decisions and immense damage to his armada, Farragut had one last hoorah up his sleeve.
Mobile Bay was the Confederate’s last port bastion to the Gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily armed with tethered mines (called torpedoes at the time). Farragut ordered the fleet to charge the bay. The USS Tecumseh was hit by a mine and began to sink. While other ships began to pull back, Farragut queried the USS Brooklyn, “What’s the trouble?” “Torpedoes”, they answered. “Damn the torpedoes!” Farragut shouted. “Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, Full Speed!” (Referring to James Edward “Fighting Jim” Jouett) The bulk of the ships entered the bay and took Mobile for the Union on August 5, 1864. Farragut became known for the saying, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” and he would take his flag ship with him to infamy, and perhaps into death.
After the war, the USS Hartford was decommissioned for repairs and put back to service several more times. During the Depression, she became the love project of President Franklin Roosevelt who even made sure there were WPA funds available for her total renovation. She was moved to the naval ship yard in Washington D.C. and declared a relic. She sank to her berth in 1956 and was finally dismantled.
There was always something about her that made her men love her, even Norman Rockwell who was stationed on her in 1918 painted many a painting of her. It isn’t known who of her men search for her in death, but it is known that more than one did. Inside the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, Georgia is a mock-up of the inside quarters of the USS Hartford, as well as a small vessel that came from her. Alabama Paranormal Research Team (APRT) was called in to come investigate claims of the apparition of a Captain inside the Hartford. Upon the initial investigation, several EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) were captured inside the Hartford mockup. One male said the word, “Coffin”. A book was later discovered by the museum staff written by Charles Carleton Coffin, who was a journalist on several flag ships during the Civil War, including the USS Hartford. Director Faith Serafin purchased the book from the museum and took it home. Upon a return investigation, APRT got another EVP inside the Hartford that said, “I want Charlie Coffin’s book back.” Several people have also felt something rub against their feet and legs and APRT has captured recordings of a cat meowing and purring inside the mock-up. Phantom flashes of lights, knocks, and even full-bodied apparitions of men have also been witnessed. You can read more about the paranormal activity at Port Columbus in Faith Serafin’s latest publication, Haunted Columbus, Georgia: Phantoms of the Fountain City.
It seems Admiral Farragut is also in the afterlife. Upon a visit to Fort Morgan at Mobile Bay, APRT was asking a series of questions in reference to the Civil War while using a ghost box, which is a device that scans through AM or FM radio frequencies creating opportunity for spirits to communicate through the white noise and audio frequencies. After communicating with a spirit named, “David”, the team asked what his favorite saying was. The spirit answered, “Damn the torpedoes”.
So what is it about the USS Hartford that has men so enamored? Perhaps it was her platform of hosting dignitaries at grand receptions and the enduring admiration of an American President or perhaps it was her infamous and remarkable history as a flag ship. Either way, they call to her as if a lover and search for her to breathe existence back into them, even after death.
NBC has created quite the jewel with the show “Who Do You Think You Are”. Obviously partnering with the Geneology giant, Ancestry.com, the show is in its second season of awakening the geneologist in us all with the help of its celebrity features. Each season, several celebrities are followed on their quest to find out more about their ancestral roots, traveling wherever the next lead takes them and meeting with the local geneologist or librarian to share with them records of the family member they are searching for, and plugging Ancestry.com wherever they can.
The most integral part of the series is not the celebrities themselves, or their ancestors, but the overhanging idea that the journey to find out your familial ties can take you to places you never expected; and, not unlike most road trips, the journey itsself is often more important as what you find when you come to the end of it. Is the show unrealistic? In one way, maybe; most people cannot afford to travel all over the place meeting with this geneologist and that expert, but with the help of places like Ancestry.com, it is an attainable idea to learn about who and where you come from. Also, these people are but a phone call away, and with modern technology, their help is a tangible idea.
Just like my article on remembering the library, this show reminds people of the importance of using the help of this free and very public service. These celebrities get a chance to travel to many different places, even including different countries, and meet these public servants who desperately want nothing more than to share with these people the gift of history that lies within the pages of the documents they care for and hold every day. Often times, excitement and wonder comes across the faces of these celebrities as they discover their family were pioneers on the forefront of what is not written in the history books, but was an extremely important movement towards our society today. Then there are the ones who feel full of disappointment, but also a sense of closure to a missing chapter in their lives, and it leads to greatfulness or appreciation for what they have now.
We can all feel this same sort of satisfaction and excitement if we awaken the geneologist inside us all. Many of the tools available to these celebrities are also available to the layman. Speaking to our family members who are alive is a great way to start. Internet searches can help a great deal and often will lead you to the sites you need to start your search. You can often step up and use Ancestry.com, it is a great tool and the databases it employs can help you more than you could imagine. There is a fee, and several plans to choose from, but it can be cancelled at any time and your information will be saved if you choose to get the service later again. You can also call the local library or probate office for deed records and census information. Many states have their records online now and are free to search, and very affordable to order records.
Awaken the geneologist in yourself. Learn more about where you come from, and perhaps you will learn how fun the journey can be. Bring together your siblings and make it a family project, or find a friend and help them search out their past too. Also, be sure you don’t miss “Who Do You Think You Are” on NBC, Friday nights, you’ll be glad you did.
I recently visited both Auburn public Library and Ralph B Draughn Library on Auburn University’s campus. I was amazed at the amount of information that I, a self-proclaimed historian and researcher, had forgotten a library holds. I was doing research on a book I am co-authoring with two of the best local historians I know and I found myself not wanting to leave. I stayed hours in the special collections, reading all about anyone who was anyone in Lee County, Alabama, and I felt almost ashamed that I had replaced the great rush I used to feel spending hours in the library for a computer and my couch. Don’t get me wrong, the Internet is a wonderful research tool, but it cannot always give you the excitement of holding a document in your hand that is so old you must wear gloves to touch it, knowing that your favorite author had held it in his/her hand as they autographed the first-edition copy “To RBD library, thanks for all your help, I couldn’t have done it without you!” and letting your imagination wonder, for just a moment, that maybe someday you’ll be autographing the same thing.
Innovation is a wonderful thing, and computers are available for a great deal of use even at the library. But, as historians, it is up to us to keep the library going. We must take our children there, encourage them to read real books, and smell that wonderful musty book smell that only a library holds. We must visit the microfilm and microfiche section and browse the old articles and papers with such eloquent and educated writing styles, that anything published today looks like a school newspaper. We should be encouraged to sit down with the staff at the library, and use them as a neccessary tool in our research. These men and women are about more than the Dewey Decimal System. Furthermore, it is important for us to REMEMBER the Dewey Decimal System! There is so much that can be learned from a book than a section scanned in an online library.
One day, I strive to visit the University of Texas library in Houston, Texas, just so I can feast my eyes upon the feet after linear feet of journals written by Samuel H Stout, the head surgeon of the Texas Confederate Hospitals. We should all strive to visit the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and admire the beauty and vastness of its architecture. We should appreciate the many documents they have hidden, locked away in some dark room because the light fades the ink, and it is almost impossible to read, and we can only dream that we may one day get to look at such a document and know that the ink was put their by our founding fathers.
Each of us should re-commit ourselves to learning history, not only from the Internet, but from a real book from a public, or even private library. I am ashamed to say that I had forgotten just how wonderful a resource the library is, and perhaps time has forgotten it as well. I know that I have re-committed myself to checking with the library first, if nothing else, just to smell those wonderful books!
How many of you watch shows like Storage Wars or American Pickers? These shows have recently rekindled the history of America and are trying to teach people that their old “junk” is really a treasure. These shows show passionate people going all over the United States, looking at people’s possessions and telling them what they are worth and sometimes purchasing these items. But does it show more than just the worth of some old sign? Most definitely.
Each piece has its own story; each piece has its own history. For the first time in a long time, shows like this have Americans interested in American history. We are learning about the small businesses, and industry that kept this nation going over the past several centuries. It is important to keep this alive. The history books in school are not telling our children these stories. They give an overview of what happened a long time ago to a bunch of people they don’t know, and so our children aren’t interested. In a school in Tennessee, they actually spend three days only on the Vietnam war. Three days to teach our children the importance of respect and kindness to the homeless Veterans they see sitting in front of the grocery store begging for food? How ridiculous! Treasure hunting is a good way to make this history tangible to our youth, and the rest of us who have forgotten what we were once taught. Picking up a sign for War Bonds, or “Rosie the Riveter” and buying it, and selling it, is a great way to instill in our children, not only the importance on making an almighty buck, but the importance of human worth, and historical worth.
Give a child a first edition copy of The Diary of Anne Franke and tell them they should research it before they sell it, and see if it does not change their hearts when they see the faces of those affected by the Holocaust, and by the World Wars, and understanding what really happened. Watch their face when you take them to an auction house and watch the frantic bidding as their college fund just got bigger, and they see the importance of this little girl named Anne to the little Jewish Couple on the front row who cry when they win the book.
Treasure hunting can also teach our children the downfall of greed, and the psychological impact the Great Depression had on American people. When they see these people who have acres and acres of land that is covered in nothing but old junk, rusty cars, and nic-nak’s and the owners won’t part with any of it, teach them that many of these people survived the Depression in America with only the sack clothes on their back. Teach them these people hold onto everything they have because it has become a disease of fear. When you have lost everything, once you get it back, you don’t want to let anything go in fear you will need it some day. Teach them the importance of planning, making sound decisions, and resisting the fear of an economic downturn.
Treasure hunting has become a rekindled trend. It is one that is an integral step towards our own humanity and patriotism, teaching our children and our grand children history, humanity, and sound financial decisions. Pass onto them the passion of “junkin”, you may just find out they are better off for it.
Recently, the television series, “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded” on the History Channel investigated the Civil War Confederate treasury disappearance. In their investigation, they concluded that the treasury was hidden, buried in the ground and clues left by the “Knights Templar”. They followed a gentleman who claims to have found Confederate treasury money over a period of some thirty years. This was interesting in and of itsself, but the question that was more interesting is they theorize that there are still men, decendants of the Knights Templar, who are still protecting the treasury, knowing its exact location, awaiting a second Civil Unrest in the United States.
The Knights Templar began as a group of soldiers, officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church and remaining for at least two centuries, closely tied to the Crusades and some of their most fiersome warriors. The group was officially disbanded by Pope Clement V, under pressure from King Philip IV of France, due to suspected financial problems the King had and distrust due to the Knights Templar secret meetings and induction ceremonies. Over the next several centuries, Knights Templar rose and fell to power, and other organizations adopted the name as their own, one such group closely tied is the Freemasons. Many of the United States most powerful and political men are part of the Freemasons, a fraternal organization whose rituals and ceremonies closely relate to the Knights Templar, and often the two names are often confused and intertwined together.
Many of the top leaders for the Confederacy were part of the Masonic rite. Often times, photos will arise of Generals, Presidents, and other important men with their hand tucked into their jackets, much like Napoleon was photographed so often. This has been rumored to be a symbol of members of the Masons, but their organization is shrouded in such secrecy and symbolism, some would claim that is pure conjecture. It is theorized that a group of these Confederate Masons called themselves the Knights Templar stole or hid the $200,000 in Confederate treasury money because they did not believe the war would remain over, and some believe the money is still guarded awaiting a second Civil Unrest. The real question is, Who would still, 100 years later, be guarding this money and why?
Grant that there are several groups out there at this time, planning for some Revolutionary uprising, but they are considered radicalists and zealots, defying even the most simplest of laws and considered by most to be nothing more than common criminals. But are there groups, every day men, members of a church and the PTA who have a secret agenda, passed down from their grandfathers, guarding money, awaiting some big “Grand Poobah” to say start digging? Perhaps because of their secrecy, we won’t know unless it comes true.