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Arkansas is rife with legends of ghosts and haunted places. Some of these legends, such as those surrounding the nationally famous Gurdon Light or the Crescent Hotel, are unique to the state, though Arkansas has also been one of the locations cited in well-known, widely reported legends, such as that of the “vanishing hitchhiker,” which has been ascribed to localities across the country.
The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) is one of Arkansas’s most famous haunted locations. The ghost of former owner Dr. Norman Baker, who turned the hotel into a health resort in 1937, is said to wander around the old recreation room by the foot of the stairs leading to the first floor. In July 1987, a woman reported having seen a ghost of a nurse pushing a gurney down a hallway in the middle of the night. Another ghost believed to haunt the Crescent Hotel is a man named Michael, who died during the hotel’s initial construction. Sources disagree on whether he is Swedish or Irish. Another ghost, usually seen in the lobby or the bar, whose identity is unknown, is described as a dignified, bearded man in formal clothing. A ghost named Theodora, a cancer patient of Dr. Baker, is said to haunt room 419, and often people report seeing ghosts in rooms 414 and 218. It is uncertain when these ghost stories began, but reports of ghost sightings increased dramatically in the 1990s.
A famous Arkansas haunted house is the Allen House in Monticello (Drew County). It was built in 1905 by Joe Lee Allen, who lived there with his wife, Caddye, and his children, Ladelle, Lonnie Lee, and Louis. Pictures of them still hang in the front hall. Joe Lee Allen died in 1917. Sometime later, Ladelle committed suicide in the South bedroom by drinking potassium cyanide. Caddye Allen had the room sealed off until 1986, when new owners opened it up and found the bottle of cyanide still sitting on a shelf in a closet. The house is said to be haunted by Ladelle and her son, Allen Bonner. Since the 1950s, tenants of the Allen House have heard footsteps and moans and have reported other supernatural incidents. One couple, seeing a closet door ajar, tried to close it but felt someone pushing back on the other side. When they opened the door, they saw that nobody was there.
Several places in the natural world are the sites of their own ghost legends, usually connected to murders. Lorance Creek in Saline County is said to be haunted by a girl, her name unknown, who was apparently murdered by being pushed into the creek; she was buried at Cockman Cemetery near the creek a few days later on December 24, 1863. By the 1920s, her wooden grave marker was entirely weathered away. The first reported sightings of her ghost were in 1920, when workers started drilling for oil near the creek and graveyard. Some workers said they heard a woman’s scream, and one worker reported seeing her on Halloween. She was crying and was heard cry out, “Why?” She then walked to the creek and disappeared. She was seen several times later that year, reportedly appearing in the white dress she was buried in. After the workers left, her ghost was seldom seen.
The famous Gurdon Light has spawned its own ghost story. The phenomenon consists of a light floating above the railroad tracks near the town of Gurdon (Clark County). A variety of scientific explanations have been advanced to explain the light, but local legend connects it to a murder. In December 1931, a railway worker attacked his foreman with a shovel and then beat him with a spike maul, killing him. Other stories attached to the Gurdon Light include those of a miner looking for his wife or his daughter, or a man looking for his head because it was cut off by robbers or because it was cut off by a train coming down the tracks. The light is, in all the stories, said to be the light of a lantern held by the ghost. Similar stories exist in Stamps (Lafayette County) regarding a dangerous railroad crossing where several people have died.
Of course, Arkansas is home to “migratory” ghost legends—those stories that are widely known across the country and happen to have been reported with Arkansas connections. In one community, several men report having seen a headless man who wanders on or near a certain ridge on dark, drizzly nights, crying out and looking for his head. Another legend reports that a woman and her baby were killed in a car crash on a bridge over Faulkner Lake in Pulaski County and that, if someone stands on the bank and yells, “Mama Lou, come and get me,” three times, the ghost of the mother will drag him or her into the lake, thinking that person is her baby. Such legends are common across the United States, each with its own local variation.
One of the most famous migratory legends reported in Arkansas is that of the “vanishing hitchhiker.” One version reports that a man driving from Batesville (Independence County) to Little Rock (Pulaski County) sees a girl by the side of the road. She is wearing white and has a torn dress and a cut above her eye. The man stops to offer her a ride, and she gives him her address, explaining that she has been in an accident. When he arrives at her place, he realizes that she is no longer in the car with him. Confused, he gets out of his car and knocks on the front door. An older man answers; he is not surprised to hear about the incident and explains that the girl is the ghost of his daughter, who had died in a car crash two months before. At midnight, she appears at the place she died and asks the driver of a passing car to take her back home. Other versions of this story take place near Redfield (Jefferson County) or Woodson (Pulaski County).
Of course, this by no means constitutes a full accounting of ghost legends in Arkansas. Most every community can cite at least one haunted place linked to a specific past incident or others, such as the cemetery of Keller’s Chapel in Jonesboro (Craighead County), to which dozens of legends are attached. Ghost legends continue to proliferate in Arkansas, as they do elsewhere, with new stories being told every day.
For additional information:Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
Dean, Jerry. “The Lovely Ghost of Lorance Creek Still Can Raise Hackles at Halloween.” Arkansas Gazette, October 26, 1986, p. 11B
Fountain, Sarah, ed. Arkansas Voices: An Anthology of Arkansas Literature. Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, 1976.
McNeil, W. K., ed. Ghost Stories from the American South. Little Rock: August House, 1985.
McNeil, W. K., and William M. Clements, eds. An Arkansas Folklore Sourcebook. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1992.
Sparks, Nancy Coons. “The Gurdon Lights Phenomenon: You Must See it to Understand It.” Arkansas Gazette, June 22, 1980, pp. 1F, 15F.
Underwood, Edward L. Haunted Jonesboro. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011.
Magdalena TeskeNorth Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 5/22/2014
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