Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is Rikard's Mill haunted by 'shadow people' and 'woman in pink casket'?

As the crow flies, one of the spookiest places in southwest Alabama sits about 20 miles from the Conecuh County line, and those of you who have been to Rikard’s Mill will know what I’m talking about.

On Friday night (and on over into Saturday morning), The Evergreen Courant and The Monroe Journal were part of a small group of thrill-seekers who spent the night inside the historic gristmill, which is located off of State Highway 265, north of Beatrice, between the Wainwright and Chestnut communities.

The fully restored mill, which is over 150 years old, is the main attraction at the Rikard’s Mill Historical Park, which is owned and operated by the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville.

Aside from myself, the others in our group included award-winning Monroe Journal reporter and photographer Josh Dewberry; John Higginbotham with the Alabama Paranormal Research Society; Nathan Carter, the museum’s Director of Properties and Public Relations; and Larry Tuberville, the park’s on-site miller/caretaker/security guard, who also serves as a frontier skills demonstrator and re-enactor when the park is up and running.

Our group experienced temperatures down into the 30s, but even more chilling were the unusual stories that Tuberville shared with us. Standing outside the covered bridge gift shop, we had a full view of Flat Creek’s dark waters and the old mill. Tuberville told us that it was on that very spot that he first saw the “shadow people.”

Tuberville is an outdoorsman, and one night some time ago he was fishing off the covered bridge, hoping to land a large bass for supper. That was when he happened to look up just in time to see something unusual pass in front of one of the mill’s illuminated windows.

"I was standing here fishing one night, and the lights were on inside the mill," he said. "I looked up and a shadow crossed in front of the window. There was no one else on the property at the time."

Tuberville said that the shadow was shaped like a man and passed from left to right in front of the window.

Tuberville shook off the experience and thought no more of it, that is, until someone else reported seeing the same shadowy figure.

Sometime later, Tuberville and another man were standing in the same spot on the covered bridge, fishing at night, when his fishing partner saw the “shadow man.”

“Man, you aren’t going to believe what I just saw in that window,” Tuberville’s friend said, pointing at the mill. “It looked like someone just walked in front of that window.”

“Was it a man’s shadow?” Tuberville asked.

“Yeah,” his friend said. “How’d you know?”

“Because I’ve seen it before,” Tuberville replied.

Tuberville followed this story with another bizarre tale, which also came from another Flat Creek fisherman.

An old man who still lives near the mill told Tuberville once that on a Sunday decades ago, he and several of his siblings were fishing in Flat Creek just down from the mill. Because of what they saw that day, they’ve never fished on Sunday again.

"When he was young - 10 or 12 or something like that - he was up here fishing with his family," Tuberville said. "They were just enjoying the day, he told me, and then a woman in a pink casket came floating down the creek. From that day on, he and his family never fished on a Sunday again."

This elderly witness still comes to the mill to fish, but, true to his word, he avoids the place on Sundays.

Around midnight, our group settled down into our sleeping bags inside the mill and spent the next few hours telling ghost stories and offering up our theories about the supernatural. I have to say that I am extremely skeptical when it comes to claims of the paranormal, but I like to keep an open mind. I do think that there are things in this world that we don’t fully understand and that a healthy interest in the unexplained is perfectly natural.

With that said, I have to admit that the spookiest things that we experienced that night was the eerie sound of a hoot owl and the loud bang of a heavy nut, striking the mill’s roof at an unexpected moment.

None of us witnessed any ghosts in the mill that night, but Higginbotham, who brought along an electro-magnetic field (EMF) detector and digital camera, did make two findings.

He snapped a few pictures with all of the mill’s lights out and in the first shot, you can clearly see a large white ball of light in front of the window where witnesses claim to have seen “the shadow people.” Was this “orb” a bit of dust or a passing bug? It’s hard to say, but in the next photo, it was no where to be seen.

Paranormal investigators, like those you may have seen on television’s “Ghost Hunters” or “Ghost Adventures,” claim that EMF detectors can help determine when a spirit is trying to manifest itself. The theory is that the ghost is drawing energy out of the environment, so that it can make itself seen, felt or heard.

Again, the EMF activity Higginbotham detected seemed to be located in the vicinity of the same window, but it was also detected at other times in other places around the large room. Was this the spirit of an old mill worker, trying to let us know he was there, or was it just random electrical energy emanating from the building’s wiring?

Whatever the case may be, Rikard’s Mill is a spooky place, especially late at night, during this time of year, when the temperatures are dropping and the days are shortening on their march toward Halloween. Maybe the best thing about it all is that you don’t have to take my word for it.

The Monroe County Heritage Museum is holding a “Ghost Stories at Rikard’s Mill” Halloween-themed event at the Rikard’s Mill Historical Park Friday and Saturday from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The event will feature costumed storytellers who will entertain visitors with scary tales at the park’s covered bridge, millhouse, pioneer cabin, carriage house and barn. Visitors brave enough to journey down the “Haunted Swamp Trail” should be prepared to encounter the “ghosts” of Native Americans, Confederate soldiers and “the Headless Horseman of Gin House Bottom.” Admission is $5 per visitor or $20 per car.

In the end, special thanks to the Monroe County Heritage Museum, especially Carter and Executive Director Stephanie Rogers, who let us spend the night in the park. I think I can speak for the entire group when I say that we had a good, memorable time.

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