Alabama Ghost Trail II: Selma

Oct 31, 2017

Editor’s Note: Since it is Halloween, APR brought up this story from our archives to take a look at the haunted history of the state. This story first aired in October of 2011.

Selma is one of Alabama’s oldest cities, as well as one of the most historic.  During this Halloween season, a number of ghost stories include Selma. Yesterday, Alabama Public Radio’s Stan Ingold told us about efforts to popularize the state’s so called ghost trail. Selma is considered one of Alabama’s most haunted cities…

            The city of Selma sits right in the middle of Alabama’s ghost trail. It saw one of the final battles of the American civil war, and Selma was one of the focal points in the civil rights movement.  People come here to experience the history and architecture, but for many, there is something else that draws them in…

            “Selma is a hot bed for paranormal activity… we have everything from in 1854 when Orion Williamson vanished in a loud boom and a flash of light in front of 50 slaves, his wife, child and his neighbors to the ghosts that haunt the houses of civil war vets.”

            That is Maggie Davies, she owns Selma Historic Cemetery Tours and is a paranormal investigator. Even though a tragic event is often associated with haunted places, Davies says that’s not is not always the case…  

Live Oaks Cemetery, Selma, Alabama
Credit Stan Ingold

            “One thing we have to look at when we talk about Selma is what the bedrock is underneath, the river running by, all the iron in this area, it grabs and stores energy and it will make a photo negative and it just plays out over time.”

            Which Davies says is a recipe for ghosts. As we walk through the live oaks cemetery on the west end of town, the Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks and magnolia trees creates an eerie appearance even in broad daylight. Davies claims Selma even has ghosts that walk the street, like that of a trash collector who definitely likes attention…

            “We have a ghost down on Water Avenue named Charlie, he was actually a slave. Charlie has been showing his appearance, people hear the tinkering of a cart behind them, turn around, look, nothing there. Some people get little, not pushed, but playfully shoved. Charlie likes to make his presence known at all times.”

            Our next stop is Sturdivant Hall, an extravagant town home built in 1852 to entertain the guests of Colonel Edward T Watts.  It is a popular spot among history lovers and it hosts the grand military ball every year.  As you might have guessed, there’s a story about how Sturdivant Hall has someone that just doesn’t want to leave…

            “We do have a resident ghost, Mr. Parkman is our spirit in the house, we hear him and people have seen him from time to time.  He causes a little mischief now and then, not too bad.”

            Manera Sercy is the executive director of the Sturdivant Hall museum. She says the ghost is that of John Parkman, the first president of the national bank of Selma and the second owner of the house.  He was arrested after the bank lost a large sum of money and was killed while trying to escape prison. He promised to never leave the house until his name was cleared. 

            “Sometimes you’ll hear footsteps on the second floor walking back and forth when nobody is here. I am a witness to that one, I’ve not seen Mr. Parkman but I have heard him and he does move things around every now and then”

            Sercy says the combination of the building’s history and ghost stories brings nearly 15-hundred visitors a year.

            “I don’t know how many of them are, you know, ghost related, but people are interested in the ghost stories. We’ve had some weird things happen, not only Mr. Parkman but people swear that they hear and see little children running around when there aren’t any here. But it is a beautiful place, we don’t mind the ghosts…”

            Another spot on the ghost trail is the St James Hotel.  It was built in 1837 and is the only surviving hotel in Selma’s downtown historic district. It is reportedly haunted by one of America’s most notorious gunslingers…

            “Jesse James, he stayed in room 301 the guys who were with him, they stayed in room 307 and 309 as well. Above the fireplace in the lobby is a painting of his mistress that was supposedly killed in the stairwell behind us, but they don’t know who did it.’

            Stephanie works the front desk at the St. James, she says while she hasn’t experienced much activity she’d be scared if something big were to happen…

            “I’d probably leave, I’m a very superstitious person, and so far, I haven’t had, I’ve had a few little things happen but I’m gonna stick by its my mind playing tricks on me versus it really did happen.”

            We go upstairs to the most coveted room in the hotel…301…Jesse James’ room. Stephanie says she may not have seen anything out of the ordinary—but others have…

            “I couldn’t tell you how many stories from people who claim to have seen him sitting that chair, the one that’s closest to the lamp, he would always sit right there or in the chair to keep an eye out over this side of the road or the front side of the road.”

            Outlaws, slaves, bankers, and socialites, Selma lays claim to a wide variety of ghosts…but as we concluded the tour, Davies wanted to reassure anyone who may come in contact with a Selma ghost, there is nothing to worry about…

            “One thing i will tell you about the Selma ghosts, they’re very accommodating and they are very friendly. Not inside the city limits have we ever found a menacing ghost. They’ve all been friendly and they’re just curious.”

        Whether you believe in spirits or not, supporters of Alabama’s ghost trail say all of these tales could help visitors better appreciate the history of the state, and maybe raise a few hairs in the process.