Church Street Cemetery Revisited

What’s a fun activity to do in October in Mobile? Why, visit an old cemetery, of course! I contacted our friend Elizabeth Parker, author of several books on the ghosts of Mobile, and she was more than happy to join us for a few hours in the Church Street Graveyard.

Church Street Graveyard

Kathryn and I entered the graveyard well before mid-day. We arrived almost an hour early and checked to be sure the gate wasn’t locked. Satisfied that our group would have unfettered access, we dashed away to grab takeout from a nearby restaurant. Something about that first glimpse into the cemetery seemed “off.” We were in too much of a hurry to ponder it deeply, but the initial feeling I got was of too much light. Was it something with the trees?

Elizabeth was the first to arrive after we returned with lunch. She pointed out what Kat and I had initially noticed but were too rushed to put our finger on. One of the cemetery’s tallest and most beautiful trees had been cut back to the trunk. There was virtually no shade left to speak of on the side of the graveyard nearest to Washington Avenue. The area appeared starkly bright. Perhaps this year’s storms caused the tree’s branches to dangle or break off. Or maybe time simply caught up to the old sentinel.

The oak that was severely cut back appeared in Kat’s 2014 photo of the cemetery. Our friend Susan spotted something odd in that picture back then and pointed it out to us. Unusual lighting conditions and a tombstone angled in just the right way resulted in what appeared to be an apparition of a nun observing our group from a distance. The picture caused a bit of controversy on Elizabeth’s web page as most people are skeptical — and rightfully so — of photographs taken in this digital age. There was no monkey business involved with the picture, and Elizabeth did return to confirm the presence of the tombstone as the likely source of the “ghost.” Still it remains a favorite in our collection of photos.

tree comparison collage
The oak tree appearing in the 2014 picture shown on the left is the same one appearing on the right, severely cut back to nothing but eight or nine feet of trunk.

Elizabeth’s friend Muriel joined us, and the group would spend some time unwinding over lunch in the cool of the shade. A few of our guests saw the event posted on Mobile.org, while others heard about us through homeschool circles on social media. We met a homeschool family new to the area from Texas and had a great time hanging out with Amanda and her boys.

As we sat under the trees, Muriel paused mid sentence. Did any of us smell smoke? We got quiet and turned our attention to the breeze. Ever so faintly, the flowery smell of flavored pipe tobacco settled on us… and then it was gone. The cemetery walls were quite some distance away, and there were no visitors smoking in the graveyard that day. None that we could see, at least.

There was diversity among us, and that’s one of the things we celebrated. Our group included one who claimed little sensitivity to the paranormal but with willingness to learn to be more open, several with varying degrees of active sensitivity and “gifts,” at least one medium, and myself. I enjoy learning the legends of an area, find mysteries irresistible, respect others when they share their experiences, but adopt a “Just Say No” stance when it comes to interaction with spirits. I’m a skeptic, then? Not exactly.

During my childhood I had quite a few unsettling experiences. Most of them happened at night. Once I understood that nothing dangerous ever came to pass, I was able to cope and not live in abject fear. But morning was often a welcome sight. A final experience in adolescence left me fearful for days. At that point I choose to close off as much as possible. I didn’t need to fully understand the things I experienced to know I didn’t want them encouraged to follow me around.

Tuning in strongly to the natural world helps block out input that seems to have no natural source. It’s akin to filtering out an annoying noise in the next room by focusing on something else, like ignoring a toddler who’s throwing a temper tantrum by stepping around him and leaving, or getting used to a yucky smell in the air by doing something productive. Would it be possible to tune back in and pick up things that others don’t notice? Probably. A few in our group sensed entities passing around us from time to time. Other than the pipe tobacco, I was willfully oblivious. My nose still hasn’t gotten the memo.

Our discussion ranged from haunted houses and land, to the history of the Church Street Graveyard, to opinions on paranormal television, books, and the use of investigative equipment. Amanda shared her family’s experiences in Texas with active hauntings in a new house. It’s not always the dwelling. Sometimes the land holds on to the past. Elizabeth told of things that happened to her during childhood and adolescence. They were eerily similar to incidents a couple of us in the group went through as children. We felt validated, if you will, that there are others who “get it.” Muriel recounted things she’d experienced in the Church Street Graveyard on prior visits.

Butterfly in Church Street Graveyard
Kathryn captured this beautiful creature among the tombstones

The teens made the rounds with the EMF meter, and one of our guests worked with the dousing rods. Several interesting “hits” registered on the EMF near the graves on the south side of the cemetery. Outside influence from utilities were reasonably ruled out as there are no power lines passing over or under the cemetery in the area where the spikes were recorded. What does pass under the cemetery walls and out into the streets? Most likely, bodies of the dearly departed.

Elizabeth shared the low-down on funerals in Mobile during the time of yellow fever epidemics. Decorum gave way to a need to bury the bodies post haste lest word make it down to the docks that Mobile was contagious. If that were to happen, the port would have to be closed and commerce would shut down until quarantine was lifted. To avoid losing money, you just don’t report the illnesses and hope no one notices the stream of people in and out of the graveyard.

Bodies were interred rather hastily, some of them on the outskirts of the cemetery proper — and many of those in unmarked graves. Did those who chose the current-day boundaries for the graveyard know where all the dead rested? Don’t count on it.

We had hoped to record EVP’s near where the EMF spikes occurred, or where the dousing rods showed something interesting. Unfortunately, the digital recorder experienced an unexplainable battery drain. What was fully charged earlier in the day was now on zero… dead as a door nail, if you’ll pardon the pun. Disappointing but not surprising.

Current theory on ghosts relies on the concept of energy transfer to explain the phenomena of hauntings. If we are energetic beings, and energy is not lost but simply transferred to the environment on our death, are ghosts or spirits a form of energy themselves? Can they successfully manipulate temperature and electromagnetic fields so that electronic equipment registers their activity? As with most theories, we may never know for sure.

As I sat with our friends, both old and new, I again pondered the makeup of the group and what had brought us here. What we learned about one another came out naturally and without judgment. Christians and Wiccans came together and bonded over an interest in the paranormal, ghosts, and curiosity about the world in general.

What would our friends think of us? I’m sure quite a few of my family’s church-going acquaintances do not approve of our ghostly interests. And no doubt the Wiccan members’ friends might have been sympathetic at their having to spend time with some of those “church people.” I completely get that.

But we did something at the cemetery that was more important than talking about ghosts, comparing experiences, or learning a little history. We were honest with each other, and we respected one another. We set aside the things that divided us, and we were friends. And that, folks, is worth all the ghost stories in the world.

Elizabeth Parker autograph

© 2015-2017 Our Lives in Stories


A great big “Thank you!” to Elizabeth and Muriel for joining our group at the cemetery and sharing your knowledge and experiences with the paranormal. To all our guests, we are happy to have spent time together and hope to meet you all again soon.

If you love to read firsthand accounts of hauntings and ghosts, check out Elizabeth’s books – Mobile Ghosts: Alabama’s Haunted Port City, Mobile Ghosts II: The Waterline, and Haunted Mobile: Apparitions of the Azalea City. Mobile Ghosts I and II are out of print. Bienville Books in downtown Mobile can sometimes get their hands on a few copies and may have Haunted Mobile in stock. The books can also be found online through sites such as Amazon.

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