GHOSTLY GETAWAY TO DAUPHIN ISLAND - Early French explorers were among the original tourists to visit Dauphin Island, Alabama more than 300 years ago. They dubbed it Massacre Island for the mounds of sun-bleached bones that they found there. What they didn't realize was that they had disturbed a sacred Native American burial ground that was rumored to be watched over by supernatural specters. Since that "spirited" beginning, the whispers and shadowy folklore surrounding Dauphin Island and its resident apparitions have grown and continue to this day drawing visitors like a departed spirit to the "light".
According to the Islanders, the ghosts at the prehistoric Indian Shell Mound Park are to be respected. Filled with cottonmouth water moccasins that lurk in the shadows of giant, ominous live oaks and a thick canopy of Spanish moss and foliage, the Shell Mound is creepy by day. But after dark it can be down right terrifying. Legend says that late at night you can hear Indian maidens singing to the beat of tribal drums and haunting flutes as they dance around the sacred "inner circle" of this ancient cemetery.
A regular destination for sÃ©ances and paranormal investigations, these burial grounds seem to be a gathering place for entities from many periods in the Island's colorful history. Civil War era Fort Gaines may easily be the most haunted spot on Dauphin Island. Tales of wandering ghosts revolve around the stoic red brick facility on the extreme East End of the Island. Visitors at the Fort have reported seeing apparitions dressed in period attire on the grounds, skulking in the darkened recesses beneath the bastions, and atop nearby bunkers outside the walls.
It was a moonlit night, not too long ago, that Island resident Ed Jones saw for himself the reality of the rumors. "It was a crisp, fall night with a half moon," said Jones. "I had an old fraternity brother visiting me for the first time on the Island and we decided to run down to the East End near the Fort. On a clear night the view of Mobile Bay and Baldwin County across the water is incredible, and I always enjoy sharing it," he said. "We slowly drove to the turn-around behind the Fort when I caught a glimpse of a solitary figure on the ramparts."
"I slowed down and saw that it was a woman in a long, flowing skirt who appeared to be looking out into the Gulf," said Jones. "My first thought was that she must be a re-enactor, but why would she have been there alone at night? As I watched, she turned her head slowly and stared silently at our car. Then like a glimmer she faded away," he said. "It was a slow fade, not like someone disappearing down a stairwell or trying to hide. One second she was there, then - nothing. I knew that my friend had seen the same thing and for the longest time we were completely silent. Finally, in a hushed voice he asked, 'did you see it?' "Yes I did," Jones said. "Though I often make the little trip to the Fort in hopes of seeing her again, the vision of the woman at Fort Gaines will be forever in my mind."
Since the mid-to-late-1800s two stately homes sat side-by-side near Fort Gaines; said to be an officers' retreat from the military grind of the Fort. Though similar in appearance one was in more disrepair than the other. A few years ago the more structurally sound of the two was purchased and moved to a new location minutes away on Bienville Boulevard. According to locals, more than a house was moved that day. Along for the ride were the disgruntled resident spirits that had been "living" there for many years, and were now suffering from separation anxiety. The urban legend says that the ghosts of the two homes were awakened to find that they had been separated by the new owners. It is reported that during restoration the owners had trouble keeping contractors on the job as the spirits regularly scared them into leaving. Ghost hunters have taken photos of the old home and claim to have captured images of beings, both human and animal, in the glass panes and through the windows. The remaining house still sits quietly on the East End, falling deeper into decay and longing for the return of its one-time plot-mate . . . so they say.
The ghosts of individuals have been regularly reported across the Island for as long as anyone can remember. Locals speak of a man dressed in military garb who is frequently seen on the east beach at midnight looking quietly out to the waves until disturbed. His demeanor changes at that point and he becomes a frightening foe. It's rumored by residents that on more than one occasion a uniformed wraith has casually drifted across the road ahead of oncoming traffic late at night. Usually seen at the outermost reach of the headlights, this shadow-like figure is always gone by the time the vehicle reaches the spot where it had stood just seconds earlier.
Given the Island's romantic history, what would a ghost story be without a tale of long lost love? A local woman, who asked to remain anonymous, tells of a strange encounter in 2005 involving the construction of her home near the beautiful and historic Cadillac Square Park. On this particular day as the pilings and beams began to go up, the homeowner was approached by an older woman in jogging clothes and wearing a colorful sport-style headband who said, "I can't believe he's letting you build here." At that one-time meeting the new homeowner was told the story of a young bride and the undying love that she still carries for her departed husband. The tale goes something like this . . . many, many years ago a young couple sailed to Dauphin Island to start a new life. They chose the same general spot as the current homeowner near Cadillac Square to build their first home together. For some unknown reason the husband left his bride on the Island one day to visit the mainland, never to return. Every night the heartbroken woman walked across the narrow width of Dauphin Island to the bay side where she would whistle in hopes her husband would hear her and return. Night after night the woman would stand along the shore and whistle, but to no avail. The "Whistling Woman" eventually pined away leaving behind a spirit that even today is said to walk across that same narrow width of Dauphin Island from Cadillac Square Park to the bay where she whistles into the wind hoping her lost husband will come home.
The ghost of another woman is said to haunt the park as well. On dark nights this female specter, wearing a bag tied over her head prowls the park digging into the ground searching for . . . something.
A lesser mentioned Island legend involves a tragic death at the beloved Sand Island Lighthouse just off the coast of Dauphin Island. The story says that a lighthouse keeper accidentally fell to his death from a catwalk high above the floor, and even today he still walks the island smoking his foul-smelling cigar.
Whether it's the ghostly spectacle of the Indian Shell Mound or a single apparition on the beach after sunset, the residents of this small barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay have learned to co-exist with their spirited neighbors, each respecting the other's "space" be it in this life or the next.
Dauphin Island is just 33 miles south of Mobile at the end of the Dauphin Island Parkway. For information on accommodations, restaurants and attractions, please call 251-861-5524 or visit the community website. Dauphin Island is Alabama's Family Beach Within Reach. - (PHOTOS OF "HAUNTED" SITES ARE AVAILABLE)
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