Haints promise to bring in tourists

Published 2:20 am Sunday, August 30, 2009

SELMA — Maggie Davies loves a story, especially a true-to-life story about the inexplicable.

Some call those stories’ subjects paranormal.

Paranormal is a fancy word for ghost story.

Email newsletter signup

Take, for instance, Orion Williamson. He lived in Dallas County back before the Civil War.

“He literally disappeared in front of 34 people,” Davies said.

On the day of is disappearance, Williamson told his wife to hold on when he saw a neighbor, Mr. Armour Wren, come up the road in a horse and buggy. Williamson said he needed to talk about some horses he had sold Wren.

“As he walks up the hill in front of all his slaves and his wife and child on the porch, the horse rears up, a flash of light and Orion is gone,” Davies said. “In front of everybody’s eyes, Orion was gone.”

The only thing left for the rest of the folks to see: a burned spot on the ground.

There’s more to the story, but to hear the rest, Davies said, people will have to come to the Haunted History Tour in October.

For a couple of years, Davies has led haunted her tour, filled with local folks playing the subjects, through the Old Live Oak Cemetery.

The tour is not for the faint of heart or the young.

Davies recommends nobody under 12 attend the event. Oh, and bring your walking shoes, she says.

Davies’ storytelling with actors and a host of other events, including a self-guided ghost tour are the latest in tourism in the area.

Candace Johnson, director of Selma-Dallas County Tourism, has worked to bring the paranormal to life in Selma and Dallas County.

“It’s very popular,” she said.

Even the local historic hotel, The St. James, has gotten in on the act by offering Haunted History Tours Get Away Packages. For $225 plus tax, a package for two includes overnight accommodations, Oct. 17-18, for the Haunted History Tours. The package offers breakfast, admission to the Haunted History Tour and to Cahawba Spirit Investigations.

“That’s great, too,” said Davies of the Cahawba Spirits Investigation.

The investigation is a moon-lit tour of Old Cahawba, now a ghost town, and once the capital of Alabama. Hosts will shuttle their guests to the most haunted spots in Old Cahawba and Central Alabama Paranormal Investigations will set up and show tourists the “art of ghost hunting.”

“You get to play with all the equipment and see if you can find ghosts,” Davies said.

Anybody who isn’t up for coming into town in mid-October can get a self-guided ghost tour day or night. Written directions for the tour are at the Centre for Commerce, 912 Selma Ave., from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The tour begins at Grace Hall, down the street from the Centre of Commerce. Grace Hall is a restored antebellum structure. Miz Eliza is the regular spirit there. She popped up when Grace Hall became a bed and breakfast in 1982, according to Johnson.

At least five spirits are believed to come and go at this home.

The tour also points people to Live Oaks Cemetery. It’s a great place to park and walk. Some pretty famous people rest there.

John M. Parkman, the legendary banker, whose ghost still lives at Sturdivant Hall, is buried there. Parkman bought Sturdivant Hall from its builder, Col. Edward T. Watts, in 1864.

Parkman rose in the ranks at the bank from clerk to president. The tale is he served time in federal prison at Cahawba for “poor investment of bank funds.” Parkman and some friends tried to escape.

Legend is fuzzy on his death. Parkman was either shot or drowned.

“The history of Selma is fun,” said Davies. “And the best way to get to know a place is to know its dead.”