Halloween is less than three weeks away, and this time of year, as temperatures drop and the leaves begin to turn, it’s hard not to think about ghosts, haunted houses and the supernatural.
As things go, on Friday night I found myself eating a late supper at one of the most reportedly haunted locations in all of Wilcox County, the Gaines Ridge Dinner Club. Built in 1837 by the Rev. Ebenezer Hearn, this two-story antebellum house-turned-restaurant is located just east of Camden on State Highway 10 and is said to be haunted by a wide variety of spirits.
Interestingly, the owners of this unique restaurant have embraced the home’s haunted history. When you visit Gaines Ridge, take a moment to read the back of the menu, which gives a brief history of the house. According to this history, Gaines Ridge “has its share of ghosts: the woman who screams and calls out, and has been seen from outside floating past the windows, the incessant crying of a baby, the aroma of pipe smoke in one room when nobody in the house is smoking, and the reflected image of a tall, gaunt man, dressed in black with a long beard.”
Some people believe that the “tall, gaunt man, dressed in black with a long beard” is the ghost of Ebenezer Hearn. It’s hard to say for sure if Ebenezer’s ghost still walks the halls of Gaines Ridges today, but there is no doubt that he was a remarkable man who lived an interesting life.
Born in September 1794, Hearn served in the First Regiment of the West Tennessee Infantry during the War of 1812. Later, he became one of the first Methodist ministers in the new state of Alabama and founded a number of early Methodist churches, including the First Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa. Hearn passed away at the age of 68 on Christmas Eve in 1862, and his grave can be found today deep within the confines of the Camden Cemetery.
As it turns out, our late supper on Friday night at Gaines Ridge was not entirely uneventful. After we’d been there for about half an hour, a young waiter was clearing another table not far from where we sat. A man and woman had been sitting there earlier, but they’d finished their meal and had left us alone in the room.
As the waiter cleared the vacant table, something clattered loudly to the wooden floor in the middle of the room between the two tables. Honestly, at first I thought that something, perhaps a small screw or wooden peg, had fallen from beneath our table and onto the floor. When I looked down at the object, my eyes met what looked like a large piece of shiny, clear glass.
The waiter stooped, picked it up and examined it closely. It was a piece of ice. “Wonder how that got in there?” he said, motioning to the cloth napkin that the ice had fallen out of. “Maybe the ghost put it there,” he said, shaking his head.
We began to talk, and I asked the waiter if he really believed that the house was haunted. He said he didn’t know if he believed all of the ghost stories he’d heard about the house, but he did say that he had definitely smelled the mysterious pipe smoke that’s often reported in the house. When I asked him if the smoke was smelled in any one particular room, he shook his head and said, “No, it happens in all of them.”
The drive home through the dark countryside gave me plenty of time to ponder that night’s trip to Gaines Ridge and to consider the many otherworldly stories told about that old antebellum home. Is it really haunted? Does the ghost of Ebenezer Hearn continue to haunt the halls of his former home? I suppose that only time will tell, but in the meantime, those of us who enjoy a good, spooky story are left to wonder.
(Before I close out this week, I want to mention that in the Oct. 26 edition of the newspaper I plan to release my first ever list of the “Spookiest Places in Wilcox County.” I’ve got a few creepy places in mind already, but I’d like to hear from readers who would like to nominate a spooky place or two for the list. If you know of a reportedly haunted location that you think would make a good addition to the list, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)