Sheriffs aren’t likely to scare easily.
The gun-toting, people- protecting, burly men typically have their wits about them.
So, if it’s enough to send goosebumps up the spine of a former sheriff, it’s real. Right?
Natchez is one of the most haunted places former sheriff Tommy Ferrell said he has been.
“A lot of people try to write it off as people letting their imaginations run away with them,” he said. “But there are too many stories here, too many incidents that can be traced down. There are too many people who experienced it.”
Stories of ghosts and haunted houses abound in historic Natchez, said Jacqueline Stephens, who once gave ghost tours in town. Among other things, she used an electromagnetic sensor to detect supernatural phenomena. Stephens has been in many of the houses with ghost stories attached, and she collects photographs from people who have captured local wisps and orbs on film.
The old county jail
Less-than-friendly spirits inhabit the old county jail on State Street, according to some who worked there. The building now houses the county supervisors’ offices, but the jail portion, including cells, still remains.
“I would venture to say the old jail probably has more spiritual disruption than any other building in town,” Ferrell said.
The jail, built in the 1800s, was in use until 1975, when the new jail next door was completed.
On the top floor stand four heavy jail cells facing an open area. A heavy metal ring hangs from the ceiling, from which inmates sentenced to the death penalty were hanged. A trap door would drop, and the convicted criminal’s neck would snap.
Those in the four cells, called death row, could watch their own fates unfold.
Ferrell’s father was also sheriff, and Ferrell practically grew up in the jail.
“In early Mississippi, executions were carried out in the home county,” Ferrell said. “The last person hung in the jail was hung in 1936. Prior to that time, quite a few people were executed there.”
The lever that operated the trap door and the four topmost solid steel cells still occupy the top floor.
Over the years, those operating the jail had many complaints from the prisoners, Ferrell said. Angry voices, moans, dragging chains, heavy footsteps and doors opening and unlocking themselves were the order of the day.
One prisoner was awakened by what he said was someone wrapping a chain around his neck, Ferrell said. He called out, and by the time help arrived, he had freed himself.
“It was very hard to decipher because of the status of the prisoners,” Ferrell said. “You didn’t know if they were making it up. But (my father and I) saw enough to convince us.”
At the time, jailers and trusties — inmates trusted to take care of the jail — often lived in the building.
“One of the most immediate stories I remember, we had trusties painting the jail,” Ferrell said. “They were on ladders painting near the ceiling, and they would encounter voices up near where the trap door is. It was so severe, the trusties who were involved didn’t want to live there anymore. They wanted to be locked back up.”
Near the end of the building’s use as a jail, Ferrell said, they had trouble getting jailers to live there because of the disturbances.
Ferrell said he had friends who lived in some of the antebellum houses around town, and they would tell tales of ghosts in their houses.
“The main difference in the jail was that we were concerned with the nature of the people being dealt with at the jail,” Ferrell said. “We didn’t know if they were going to be more confrontational.”
There were never any serious confrontations, he said, but there were certainly incidents that made those who worked in the building uneasy.
One night, a deputy was on dispatch duty by himself, Ferrell said.
“The deputy went into the kitchen late at night to get a snack and encountered something — a loaf of bread floating aimlessly in the air,” he said. “He drew his gun.”
Ferrell was a deputy at the time, and said he and others teased the gun-pulling man for weeks, saying a gun would be useless against a ghost.
“That particular individual would never go back into the kitchen again,” Ferrell said. “He would always bring his own sandwich.”
Finally, in 1975, the new jail opened next door. The old jail sat unused for years until the county supervisors refurbished the building and made it their office.
“We were glad to get out of it,” Ferrell said. “I would have to say the old jail is one of the most haunted buildings in all of Natchez. You got to the point where you just accepted the fact something was occurring. You couldn’t control it. It wasn’t going to hurt you, but it sure made you uneasy.”
More recently, county employees who work in the building have had odd experiences, too. Secretary and inventory clerk Angela Hutchins said through the years she has worked there, only recently has she had a brush with the paranormal.
“I saw someone in a red shirt walk through the conference room across the hall,” Hutchins said. “I thought I was seeing things. Then, a little later, I saw it again.”
She walked in the room, and no one was there.
“I checked and thought, maybe they went out the back door, but nobody was there,” she said.
For a long time, the phones used to light up when no calls were coming in, and the stairs creaked, she said.
Hutchins said the odd disturbances don’t faze her during the day.
“I can stay up here by myself all day and it doesn’t bother me,” she said. “It’s just at night I turn on all the lights.”
But the Natchez ghosts and goblins aren’t quarantined to the criminal world. Ritzy ghosts prefer antebellum mansions.
One antebellum house with plenty of ghostly guests is the bed-and-breakfast Linden, owner Jeanette Feltus said. The antebellum mansion was built about 1800, plenty of time to accumulate spirits, she said.
The home was passed down through her husband’s family since they bought it in 1849.
While she says the house has more ghosts than she can count, the most commonly encountered spirit is that of her father-in-law, Dick.
Dick’s room is on the first floor, a room in which he was born and raised. Toward the end of his life, he had a stroke and would walk with a cane, Feltus said. When he had trouble sleeping, which was often, he would clomp onto the veranda and rock in one of the chairs, accompanied by his small black dog, Tar. When Dick was finally tired, he would make his way back to bed.
Dick died one October several years ago, and when his April birthday rolled around, Tar, now sleeping in Feltus’ room, wouldn’t stop barking.
The next morning, three couples staying in the house asked who was walking with a cane the night before. That was his first appearance.
Since then, Dick has joined the numerous spirits Jeanette says roam the property, and he shows up quite frequently.
“One time, a couple came to breakfast and said a man got in bed with them. I said, ‘That’s Dick’s bed. But you don’t have to worry, he’s a perfect gentleman,’” Feltus said, laughing.
Other unexpected guests have taken up permanent residence in the house. Several of Feltus’ daughters’ guests have seen a mysterious man with a top hat. Feltus’ husband and his friends once saw a woman fall off the rooftop and disappear before she reached the ground.
One of the most memorable and chilling experiences Feltus had was when she was sitting quietly in the library. The door opened and closed itself.
“It was closed and latched,” she said. “The tongue was in the latch. It clicked open, a big breeze blew through the room, and it closed and latched again.”
When her two girls were young, they had buzzers in their rooms in case of an emergency, Feltus said. One night, she heard it ring from one of their rooms and dashed upstairs to check on them.
“(My daughter) had seen somebody go down the hall,” Feltus said. “The door at the end of the hall to the gallery was open, and it can only be opened from the inside.”
Feltus called the police, who showed up, lights flashing.
To get off the balcony at the end of the hall, where the person was headed, someone would have had to jump and suffer quite a fall. But no one was ever found.
Most of her ghosts are benevolent, she said. They don’t move things around or break things.
“If there are ghosts, I feel they protect me,” she said. “I think my ghosts are friendly,” she said. “They’re my husband’s ancestors. They like me, and they’ve adopted me. I’m not afraid of them.”
The Eola Hotel
Along with jails and antebellum houses, one of Natchez’s downtown hotels supposedly plays host to a ghost or two.
Patti Jenkins, an Eola employee for six years, said guests often relate stories of flickering lights and spooky encounters.
Most of them center around Eola herself. Isadore Levy completed the hotel in 1927 and named it after his daughter, Eola, who had died at age 16.
“There’s been a ghostly white figure in a white dress seen by several guests,” Jenkins said.
Guests sometimes ask to change rooms because they feel presences, she said.
“Most recently, just before Christmas, there was a conference in town,” Jenkins said. “One lady refused to turn her lights out for four nights. She just knew something was in the room with her.”
Jenkins herself has had experiences with Eola, she said. Even though there’s one way in and out of her office, she sees glimpses of people in her office now and then. She and other people will hear their names called when no one’s there, she said.
Years ago, she said, women were taught to be ladylike, to walk and ascend stairs a certain way. One day, Jenkins was hurrying down the staircase into the hotel lobby.
“I was rushing down the middle of the staircase, and someone nudged me,” she said. “She was telling me I wasn’t doing it right. So I went over to the side, held the banister, and it didn’t happen again.”
A food and beverage director wasn’t so lucky. When he was rushing down the stairs, he felt a firm shove and tumbled down the stairs. He wasn’t hurt, Jenkins said, but the experience unnerved him.
Eola’s father seems to haunt the hotel, too, Jenkins said. Although the hotel’s bar is now on the ground level, it was on the seventh floor years ago.
The bartender was getting ready to close for the night, Jenkins said, when a man walked in and ordered a drink. He was dressed nicely, but a little out of style.
The bartender fixed the man his drink, but when she turned to hand it to him, he was gone.
So, she went to get the paperwork to close the bar and count the money. On her way, she glanced at a picture on the wall. It was the man who had just ordered the drink — hotel owner Isadore Levy, long since dead.
Sometimes sightings will affect someone other than guests and employees. Before Christmas, a man and a woman were hired to give the hotel a fresh coat of paint.
One day, the two were painting near the front desk where Jenkins was working.
While they were painting, a woman tried to exit through a door they had just painted.
“Please don’t go through that door,” the man asked her, catching Jenkins’ attention.
When the woman was out of earshot, Jenkins heard the woman painter ask the man, “Who was that girl with her?”
“There was no girl,” the man replied.
Jenkins, too, said she had seen no girl. And when the three looked out the window, they saw the woman walking along the street — without a child.
The painter swore she had seen a girl and was so upset by the experience, she packed up her equipment and left, Jenkins said.
“We had to get somebody else to finish it,” Jenkins said. “To this day, she hasn’t stepped foot in this hotel again.”
The hotel has convinced many people of the existence of ghosts, she said.
Even General Manger Ron Brumfield has trouble explaining some goings-on in the hotel.
“I think there’s an explanation for pretty much everything,” Brumfield said.
But after lights repeatedly flickered in one particular room, he had electricians come in and inspect the wiring.
“They traced the wires, but they could never figure out why,” Brumfield said.
Jenkins finds that amusing.
“I think if you come here — or anywhere — as a nonbeliever but open-minded, you can probably leave as a believer,” she said. “But if you go in dead set that nothing’s going to happen, it won’t. If you know someone doesn’t want you around, you don’t come out and talk.”