Monday, October 22, 2012

BUCKET LIST UPDATE – No. 564: Ghost hunt the old Castleberry bank building

The old Castleberry bank building.
I scratched another item off my bucket list on Saturday night when I took part in a “ghost hunt” at the old bank building in downtown Castleberry, Alabama. For those of you unfamiliar with Castleberry, it’s a small town between Evergreen and Brewton that’s best known for being the “Strawberry Capital of Alabama.”

There are a number of places in Southwest Alabama that I’ve always wanted to check out, and this old building has been high on my list for some time. My first encounter with this building occurred several years ago not long after I first started working at The Courant. If memory serves me correctly, I visited Castleberry on that day to take a picture of the town’s new nutrition center van.

After the picture, I mentioned to Mayor J.B. Jackson that I’d never been to Castleberry before and he gave me the dime tour. He took me along Cleveland Avenue, the main street that runs through downtown Castleberry, and told me about the town’s colorful history. He eventually took me down to the old bank building, which is located at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and West Railroad Street in the town. It was locked on that particular day, and I had to settle for looking through the building’s large windows.

The building was obviously one of the oldest in town and while it had seen better days, it still had a lot of character. Sherry Johnston, the head of the archives department at the Evergreen-Conecuh County Public Library, would later tell me that the bank was once a busy financial institution and also housed the town’s post office at one time. The original bank went belly-up during the Great Depression.

My interest in this old building only increased later when Castleberry Fire Chief Josh Reeves told me that the building is believed to be haunted. He told me that the original bank president lost everything he had during the Great Depression and committed suicide inside the building. Reeves’ mother worked there during the mid-1980s and she said that every once in a while employees would hear a man talking even though there were no men in the building. She also said that employees would smell cigar smoke just like the smoke from the cigars smoked by the original bank president. She also said that things would get inexplicably moved around during the night.

A few weeks ago, the Castleberry Town Council was good enough to give me and two other people permission to visit the old bank building at night to conduct a “ghost hunt.” The idea was to see what we could experience inside the old building and to write about it as a way to promote the building as a potential museum for the town. On Saturday night, our group, which included award-winning reporter and photographer Josh Dewberry of The Monroe Journal and John Higginbotham of the Alabama Paranormal Research Society, visited the old bank building. We began our visit around 8 p.m. and left the bank a few minutes after midnight. For full details about our trip, see a more detailed story that’ll be posted here on Thursday and reported in The Monroe Journal and The Evergreen Courant.

In the end, how many of you have ever been inside the old bank building in Castleberry? How many of you remember when it was an actual, working bank? Do you know anything more about its history? Do you know any other “ghost stories” about this building? Let us know in the comments section below.

(Special thanks to the Castleberry Town Council and Mayor J.B. Jackson for giving us permission to visit the old bank building. They could have easily shut us down from the start, but instead they were more than willing to let us visit this historic building during odd hours. The trip would have been impossible without their cooperation.)

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