Thursday, October 27, 2016

BUCKET LIST UPDATE No. 303: Spend the night in the Claiborne Masonic Lodge at Perdue Hill

Old Claiborne Masonic Lodge at Perdue Hill
This past Friday night, as part of its annual Halloween investigation, The Evergreen Courant teamed up with Monroe Journal award-winning reporter and photographer Josh Dewberry, and John and Brandi Higginbotham, members of the Singleton Society of Paranormal Investigators, to investigate the Old Claiborne Masonic Hall at Perdue Hill.

This old Masonic lodge, which sits at the intersection of U.S. Highway 84 and Monroe County Road 1, is one of the oldest buildings in Southwest Alabama, and is just the kind of place you’d expect to find supernatural activity.

Built in 1824 on a high bluff along the Alabama River at Claiborne, the lodge was moved to Perdue Hill in 1884. During its heyday, it was used for a wide variety of purposes, including as a Masonic hall, by various churches, as a school, courtroom, meeting place, social hall and voting house. It also hosted famous Revolutionary war hero General Lafayette in 1825, and William B. Travis, the hero of the Alamo, practiced law in the building in the 1830s.

I’ve wanted to spend the night in this historic building for as long as I can remember, and when the chance to investigate it for Halloween arose recently, I began to look forward to it more and more leading up to Friday night.

I arrived on Friday night a little after 8:30 p.m. to find Josh and the Higginbothams already there, and we set about exploring the building. The ground floor includes a large, open meeting area in addition to a small kitchen and restrooms. The walls are also covered with numerous old photographs, maps and documents about the building and area’s history.

It’s also on this floor of the building that witnesses claimed to have heard disembodied whispers coming from the hallway leading up to the second floor Masonic hall.

We took the twisting, wooden staircase to the second floor and explored this part of the building thoroughly. There we found an old, but well-preserved Masonic arch, in addition to numerous other artifacts and photos in glass display cases. The entire time, the Higginbothams were busy using their electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors, looking for unusual readings that may indicate the presence of paranormal activity.

During our exploration of the second floor, we discovered an unusual trap door that opened unto a hidden stone shaft that ran down through the center of the building beside an old fireplace. The shaft ran all the way through the center of the building in such a way that you would be unaware of its existence unless you happened to open the trap door, which was blocked with an old, wooden chair. 

We could see brown dirt at the bottom of the shaft, so we knew that it ran all the way to the ground beneath the building. However, when we checked outside, we found no way to access the bottom of the shaft.

A number of odd things occurred in the building between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. A light in the kitchen went off by itself at 11:01 p.m. Later, we thought we heard music, maybe an old violin or harmonica, and still later a weird, red light appeared on a downstairs wall.

We set about trying to explain these things and determined that maybe the bulb or ballast in the kitchen light had gone bad. We figured that the sound of the ghostly music was actually caused by a small tree limb scraping on an upstairs window pane. The red light turned out to be caused by a passing vehicle outside the shuttered downstairs windows.

Later, we used highly sensitive digital recorders to conduct an “EVP Session,” that is, we asked a series of short questions with long silent pauses in between in hopes of catching what’s called “electronic voice phenomenon.” These EVPs, as they’re called for short, are ghostly voices that can’t be heard with the naked ear at the time of the recording, but are captured on tape in the pauses between the questions. Many believe these recordings are direct evidence of ghosts and spirits.

A review of our recordings yielded surprising results. At one point, Brandi asked if anyone could hear music, and a male voice – not me, Josh or her husband John – said “no.” Later, while we were upstairs in the old Masonic hall, the recorder caught a voice saying something in a heavy accent to the effect of “Lord, help me” or “y’all help me.” The recording also captured the word “seventy” in response to a question Brandi asked about the age of the building. The recorder also caught a number of other EVPs, but these were not easily understood. Maybe they were in French, the native tongue of General Lafayette?

The Higginbothams and Josh decided to head home around 2 a.m., but I elected to spend the night, mainly so that I wouldn’t have to drive back to Perdue Hill a few hours later to return the building’s keys to its caretaker. As soon as my colleagues left, I locked the front door, stretched out on a bench downstairs, covered up with a sleeping bag and fell asleep.

Suddenly and without warning, around 2:50 a.m., I jolted awake to the sound of footsteps coming from the second floor. The building is so old that it’s almost impossible to move, and especially walk, without making some sort of noise on the creaking, wooden floors.

Alone there in the dark, straining my ears, my heart began to beat like a trip-hammer as, after a short pause, I heard another of these “step” noises. In all, I'd say there were seven or eight of these “steps,” and one of them - the last one - was very loud, almost a bang like someone dropped a small rock on one of the glass display cases upstairs.

Looking back, I probably should have grabbed my Maglite and investigated the source of the noise. Instead, at the time, this didn’t seem like the thing to do, so I laid there for what seemed like a long time, listening, not moving a muscle, before eventually falling back to sleep. I awoke around 6:15 a.m., not long before the sun began to rise in the east from the direction of Evergreen. I packed up my gear, loaded it into my truck, and returned the key to the caretaker.

On my way home, I thought about my night at the Old Masonic Hall at Perdue Hill. Is it haunted? Do ghosts walk the second floor in the middle of the night when no one’s around? Do past events at the lodge play themselves out over and over again when the building is empty? I admit to not knowing the answers to these questions, but I can say that I do believe that few buildings in this part of the state are as ripe for supernatural activity as this nearly 200-year-old Masonic lodge.

(Special thanks to Agee Broughton for allowing us to investigate the Masonic Hall at Perdue Hill on Friday night and to Dawn Crook, Josh Frye and Josh Dewberry for helping to set up this year’s Halloween investigation.) 

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