Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is the historic Old Dr. Watkins House at Burnt Corn really haunted?

Dr. Watkins House at Burnt Corn, Alabama
Nine years ago, in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, the owners of the historic Dr. Watkins House at Burnt Corn opened the house up to loggers who needed a place to spend the night while they spent their days removing storm debris from county roadways. Loggers arrived at the house with their sleeping bags and luggage, but when the property manager checked on them the following morning, he was greeted by an unexpected sight.

“There were sleeping bags and suitcases scattered all over the yard,” Pat McPherson, who takes care of the house for its owners, said. “They got out of the house in a hurry. You could tell.”

Not only did they leave their sleeping bags and suitcases behind, but they also left a note.

“The note said that they’d heard a woman scream in the back of the house,” McPherson said. “When they went to check it out, there was no one there. It spooked them so bad, they didn’t spend another minute inside the house. These weren’t lightweights either, these were manly guys used to working in the woods.”

The Dr. Watkins House is located just off County Road 5, about 1-1/2 miles north of downtown Burnt Corn. It’s one of the oldest homes in Southwest Alabama, and it’s also rumored to be one of the most haunted. Built in 1812, it served for many years as the home and medical office of Dr. John Watkins, who was once the only practicing physician between the Alabama and Chattahoochee rivers. Watkins passed away in 1853, but not before treating individuals wounded during the Fort Mims Massacre of 1813 and seeing Andrew Jackson pass through Burnt Corn in 1814 on his way to the Battle of New Orleans. Some sources even say that Jackson spent the night in the Dr. Watkins House, while Jackson’s troops camped a little farther down the road.

Spooky tales about the Dr. Watkins House abound and leave little wonder why a hardy group of loggers couldn’t spend an entire night in the house.

Harry McMillan of Montgomery told The Courant that about 20 years ago, he and his wife, Anne, were in the sitting room one night when they looked into an adjoining bedroom and were shocked by the sight of blood dripping from the ceiling between two boards and down a wall. They ran upstairs to see where the blood was coming from and found nothing. When they returned downstairs, the blood was gone, McMillan said.

Watkins’ medical office was located on the second floor of the house, and McMillan wonders if the phantom blood may have been the result of something that happened in the house years before.

“There’s no telling what all has happened in that house over the years,” he said. “Pulling arrows out of people, delivering babies, you name it, he probably had to deal with it. Who knows how many people were born and died in the house?”

More recently, McMillan said that his nephew spent the night in the house and awoke to find a ghostly figure standing at the foot of his bed. A few seconds later, the mysterious figure disappeared. McMillan also reported that individuals spending the night in the house have repeatedly heard the sounds of footsteps on the front porch, but when they check for the source of the noise, nothing’s there.

Others have reported seeing Watkins’ ghost standing in the doorway of one of the home’s bedrooms while others have reported eerie feelings caused by artwork inside the house, particularly an original painting of a woman carving a Jack o’ Lantern. One man got so creeped out by one of the paintings, saying that he felt like he was being watched, that he refused to set foot back in the house, McPherson said.

With these spooky tales in mind, The Courant teamed up with award-winning reporter and photographer Josh Dewberry of The Monroe Journal and John Higginbotham of the Alabama Paranormal Research Society on Friday night to investigate the Dr. Watkins House, and the results of the overnight trip were not disappointing.

Around midnight, all three of us were sitting in the living room when one of us saw a pale blue, softball-sized light appear in front of a window in an adjoining bedroom. The light disappeared almost immediately and a few seconds later one of us saw another shapeless, pale blue object appear in the same spot. It disappeared almost immediately as well and nothing happened for several more minutes.

Later, the bedroom curtains began to move and after watching them sway slightly for nearly a full minute, we entered the room to see if it was being caused by a draft. We ran our hands along the edge of the window and along the floor, but couldn’t detect a breeze or find any other reason for the curtains to move. Eventually, the curtains stopped moving, and we never saw them move again for the remainder of our stay.

Around 1:15 a.m., we’d returned to the living room and a few minutes later got the surprise of the night. Suddenly and without warning, a dark shape appeared in the doorway to the same bedroom, almost as if it had darted out to look around the corner before disappearing around the edge of the door. This shadowy figure appeared low to the floor, just three or four feet off the ground. We searched the room and the adjoining rooms for anything that could have caused the shadow, but came up empty handed.

We turned in for the night around 2 a.m. and slept soundly, aside from the sound of an occasional hoot owl or passing car, until 6 a.m. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, and we headed for our vehicles a few minutes later. As a light frost crunched beneath our feet, we stopped for a few photos of the home’s exterior, and I was struck by the somewhat menacing aspect of the home’s fa├žade. Silent and implacable, the house looked menacing, like a place full of secrets, a place that seemed to say that it had been there long before we were born and would be there long after we’ve passed from this world to the next.

Friday night marked the fourth straight year that The Courant has teamed up with Dewberry and Higginbotham to investigate a supposedly haunted location in our neck of the woods. In past years, we’ve investigated the Old Carter Hospital in Repton, Rikard’s Mill near Beatrice and the Old Castleberry Bank Building, and the Dr. Watkins House ranks right up there among them on the creepy scale.

In the end, can it be said that the Dr. Watkins House is truly haunted? Without more concrete evidence, it’s hard to say for sure, but one thing is certain – a lot of people believe it’s haunted, and it’s hard to disagree with them.

“The family definitely believes the house is haunted,” McMillan said. “But we don’t think it’s anything that intends to harm anyone.”

(Special thanks to the Lowrey Trusts, Jacob Lowrey, Harry and Ann McMillan, Pat and Mary McPherson and Clinton C. Berry Jr. for giving us permission to visit the Dr. Watkins House and their hospitality. The trip and resulting story would have been impossible without their gracious cooperation. Many thanks.)

1 comment:

  1. How do I get in contact with the people who own the Watkins house? I've been trying to visit but would prefer to have persimmon first