Haunted Places Report 01/01/06
Rev. Ron Beach
Jan 01, 2006 16:22 PST
THE HAUNTED PLACES REPORT
Some things exist whether you believe in them or not!
Founded by: Dennis William Hauck
Edited by: Rev. Ronald E. Beach
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FROM THE EDITOR
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Mayhem on the Mississippi - The Sultana Tragedy
Written by: Pat Fitzhugh
Copyrighted, used with permission
The Civil War brought the southeast many ghost stories, the thought of
which conjures images of soldiers still lurking the battlefields and
bugles sounding in old Confederate graveyards late at night. One of the
war's most tragic events, however, took place not on a battlefield, but
a river the Mississippi and evoked what many believe is a strong
paranormal presence that exists even today.
The Mississippi was crucial to both the Union and the Confederacy in
terms of military strategy, supply lines, and soldier transportation.
Gunboats could quickly attack such ports as Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez,
and New Orleans without significant detection. Ammunition and supplies
could be easily transported to soldiers in the battlefields close by,
and many Union soldiers used steamboats for transportation to and from
After the war, the government announced that it would pay steamboat
companies $5 for each Union soldier they transported home. This led to
the assignment of larger vessels to fulfill the mission. One such vessel
was the 280-foot steamer, "Sultana," built in 1863. The trips northward
seemed long and grueling because the weary soldiers were forced to crowd
inside the 376-passenger vessel as it made its way up the Mississippi
and Ohio rivers, a trip that took several days.
The Sultana's routine was straightforward; it would fill to capacity,
sail northward, and then return to pick up more weary soldiers. The
vessel soon became known as a "workhorse" steamboat, never stopping for
long and always sailing on time. Its dependability was noted by Union
commanders who, when faced with the possibility of making a "kickback,"
loaded as many soldiers as possible onto the vessel each trip; the more
men who were transported, the larger the kickback.
On April 24, 1865, a contingent of 1,900 homeward-bound soldiers
waited at Vicksburg, Mississippi for the Sultana to arrive from New
Orleans, where it had left three days earlier, carrying 185 passengers
and a cargo of sugar and cattle. The vessel made good time until it
encountered boiler problems a few miles south of Vicksburg, which
delayed its arrival by several hours. In port, commanders discussed how
many soldiers would be allowed to board; there were far more soldiers
than the vessel could accommodate.
Safety concerns soon gave way to the importance of getting underway
quickly when the boiler repairs were made. Soldiers were allowed to
board as repairs were being made, and they would be accounted for when
the vessel was underway. The Sultana steamed away from Vicksburg at
10:00 PM, carrying upwards of 2,000 passengers.
The Sultana picked up more troops along the Mississippi as it made its
way northward, finally arriving in Memphis, Tennessee on the evening of
April 26th. It had been an uneventful trip from Vicksburg to Memphis,
but a routine boiler inspection revealed a major leak and the vessel was
ordered to stay until repairs could be made. More passengers, mostly
women and children, boarded the vessel while most soldiers disembarked
and visited nearby taverns to kill time while the repairs were being
The whistle sounded just after midnight, and most soldiers returned in
time to sail. Captain J. C. Mason guided the Sultana across the river to
Hopefield, Arkansas, where it took on coal before heading northward.
Flooding in the North had caused the river to flow swiftly and out of
its banks, and the wind and dense fog combined to make for an even
slower and more treacherous voyage to the next port, Cairo, Illinois,
several days to the North. The Sultana slowly steamed off into the
darkness as the lights of Memphis slowly faded from sight.
On board, passengers began settling in for the evening. Some were
fortunate enough to sleep in cabins and others had to settle for the
outside decks; space was very limited. Mothers found sleeping space for
their children near the warm boiler room; the repetitious straining and
chugging sounds made their little ones fall asleep in no time.
For the weary soldiers, this was the final leg of a four-year journey
plagued by death, disease, and exhaustion; it was almost over. They
would soon reunite with their families, in some cases for the first time
since the war began. Between such emotion and being packed like
sardines, sleeping was very difficult for the weary soldiers.
Laboring against the wind and swift current, the Sultana neared a
small cluster of islands called "the Chicken and Hens," just after 2 AM,
averaging only six knots per hour. The previous port, Memphis, was still
only twelve miles away. The fog's increased density seemed to absorb all
sound even the chugging of the engine and an eerie silence fell over
the vessel as it slowly chugged up the Mississippi.
Then suddenly, the eerie silence turned into all-out mayhem. A strong
blast jolted the vessel, throwing passengers off the outer decks and
into the frigid depths of the Mississippi. Some were killed instantly by
the impact, and others suffered only broken limbs. Their attempts to
stay afloat were futile; their cries for help turned into gurgling and
choking as the strong undertow pulled them down into the cold, muddy
depths. They would not be heard from again. At about the same time, a
series of gut-wrenching screams came from the boiler room, which had
become an inferno of burning wood and melting steel. The screams, mostly
of women and small children, were very intense but lasted only a few
seconds. They were not heard again.
Seconds later, another blast was felt. Red-hot chunks of coal were
strewn throughout the vessel; the chunks that flew overboard made a
loud, hissing sound when they hit the water. This second blast flung
more bodies, mostly burning, overboard much like the hot coal, but
only with a shorter hiss when they hit the water. Passengers who
survived the blasts tried frantically to reach the main deck as more
things caught fire and smoke began filling the vessel; a few made it,
but most were in shock or too injured to move.
Within minutes, the Sultana all 280 feet of it had become a
floating inferno of wood, steel, and human carnage in the middle of a
deep, swift river with no other sign of light anywhere. Passengers
searched desperately for anything that might keep them afloat so they
could swim to safety, but very little could be found; most everything
was on fire. One of the giant smokestacks finally collapsed, landing on
a handful of passengers and burning them to death. The main cabin deck
collapsed at one end, dumping passengers into a "pit" of sorts, which
was situated at the bottom of the vessel where the fire seemed the
hottest. Suddenly, the wind shifted and swept the fire, along with the
aroma of burning wood and human carnage, to the outer decks.
The few remaining passengers stood at the outer railing, pondering
whether to jump or be burned alive. Most said a short prayer and jumped;
their cries for help faded as the current pulled them under. A lucky few
happened upon driftwood and managed to stay afloat, but eventually
succumbed to hypothermia and their bodies were found frozen to the
driftwood several miles downstream the following morning. Those who
reluctant to jump held onto the railing until the intense heat gave them
no choice; they jumped and suffered the same fate as most of their
Reduced to a floating bed of coals, the Sultana's remnants drifted
aimlessly for several hours before washing up on a small island.
The towering blazes were seen back in Memphis, where search parties
set out the following morning. A few survivors were found along the
riverbanks and taken to a Memphis hospital, but most died from burn
complications in the days that followed. It took some time to gather all
the bodies from the river, and identifying them was difficult because
puffiness and discoloration had set in; and to make matters worse, many
had been severely disfigured by the blasts. Still other bodies had
become tangled in submerged brush and trees as the current swept them
downstream. They were found, first by wild animals, in the spring when
the floodwaters subsided from the thickets along the riverbank; their
identification was impossible.
The Sultana tragedy claimed more than 1,750 lives yes, even more
than the Titanic -- but made headlines for only a short time. Why this
horrific tragedy received so little attention is anyone's guess, but the
author feels that the news of Lee's surrender to Grant (April 9th),
Abraham Lincoln's assassination (April 14th), and the killing of John
Wilkes Booth (April 26th), simply "overshadowed" the Sultana disaster.
The Mississippi River, always changing its course, now flows about
three miles from the disaster site. All that remains of the Sultana lies
some twenty feet beneath a soybean field near the Tennessee-Arkansas
border. Only a few relics have been recovered, and it is not likely that
an excavation will take place anytime soon the cost is simply too
high. Many are okay with this, however, because the field is a lasting
memorial to those who lost their lives in the disaster. However, its
present-day sense of peace and isolation is negated by a lingering
presence that has terrified many people.
For years, tugboat captains on the Mississippi have reported seeing an
orange "glow" lingering above the field late at night. They say it
resembles the glow of a fire burning, and lasts for some time before
slowly fading away. This description coincides with what nearby
residents have reported as well, including the notion that the field
feels warmer than the land that surrounds it. Most feel the apparition
is a residual haunting, where a "ghost ship" repeatedly lives out its
final hours; but others feel the phenomenon encompasses a much broader
Hunters have reported screams, choking and other ghastly sounds in the
area. Some blame the elements, but most readily admit there is no
natural explanation. Others have reported seeing human-like apparitions,
mostly disfigured and scantily clad in old clothing, moving about the
field and sifting through the dirt just after daybreak. The figures are
seen only a short time before disappearing, usually into the dense fog
that the Mississippi River bottomland is known for. Many believe the
figures are Sultana disaster victims searching for their belongings,
which are now buried under twenty feet of silt and clay.
With so many years having passed, it is hard, if not impossible, to
comprehend the pain and anguish felt by those who perished in this great
tragedy. It is doubtful that the Sultana will ever be recovered, and the
tragedy will most likely remain a long-forgotten footnote in the annals
of American history; but for some people, the ghastly apparitions and
noises at the disaster site are the only reminder necessary.
Postscript: The author spent several days in Memphis researching the
Sultana disaster back in 1999. Unable to find a contact number for
permission to visit the disaster site, he drove along nearby public
roads to get a good feel for the area. On his way back, when crossing
the Mississippi only a few miles south of the disaster site, he noticed
a large sign at the Pyramid Exhibition Center, which read, "Exhibit:
Titanic - The World's Greatest Maritime Disaster." "Oh boy, how ironic
is THAT!" he thought, shaking his head slowly and saying aloud, "yeah,
right, whatever you say -- do some research next time!"
This section is devoted to helping those looking for paranormal groups
near their home or seeking information about various hauntings. If you
can provide answers or help to any of these requests please feel free to
email the senders.
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We are forming a new ghost hunting group in Findlay, Ohio. If
interested in joining please contact me at:
From: Victor at: email@example.com
Id like to contact with a person in your organization who can speak
or understand Spanish.
I have some heavy experiences with paranormal phenomena Id like to
share with your members, and am looking for help too.
From: Mary at: firstname.lastname@example.org
How can a group form in Juneau, Alaska? I work at a very haunted place.
From: Renay at: email@example.com
I was on my way back to the car from the store, having to cross the
road close to the Masonic Cemetery. When I got about a foot away from
the sidewalk I felt a pressure on my upper chest area, not thinking
anything of it, I continued walking.
As I got closer to the car, I experienced a feeling like someone
strong had punched me in the same area. Seconds later, I found myself
laying in the road.
I got home to report it to my mother (approx. 2 hrs. later) lifted up
my shirt, have found fresh bruising on my chest.