Meridian Star

October 30, 2012

Things that go bump in the night: Ghost hunters visit old Lauderdale County jail

By Brian Livingston /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Ever since man has had a sense of consciousness and curiosity of what happens after a person dies, they have searched for answers into the unknown.

    Steve Thomas, thanks to an event that happened to him when he was 14, has also wondered, "Are there spirits or entities who inhabit dark corners who can make themselves known to us if we just seek them out and listen?"

    "I've always asked myself, 'What if?'" says Thomas, who along with others who wanted some answers spent several hours recently in the old Lauderdale County Jail atop the court house in downtown Meridian. "I've always been intrigued by what may be out there."

    Dr. Alan Brown, a noted author and historian of the South as well as an experienced paranormal investigator from the University of West Alabama in Livingston, says the South, with all the turmoil and pain it has experienced throughout its history, is ripe for ghost stories. He says the South's only rival would be the Northeast where the history is older with such events as the Salem witch trials.

    "We in the South cling to this part of our culture because we don't want to let it go," says Brown, who was among the team that probed the dank, smelly and foreboding areas of the jail with Thomas. "Southerners believe these events are a part of us so we, in a way, embrace it while at the same time are scared of it as well."

    According to Sheriff Billy Sollie, the jail was closed in July of 1998 on, of all days, a Friday the 13th. Sollie was familiar with the stories but in his two years of operating the jail he says he never experienced anything spooky or out of the ordinary.

    Not so last week when Thomas, accompanied by five other people, ventured up to the jail to conduct an investigation — the second time he has done one there. His team included Brown and several fellow law enforcement officers who work with Thomas at the Meridian Police Department. Another officer, Deputy Chris Swanner of the LCSD, worked in the jail before it closed and he acted as the team historian.

    The jail was the scene of countless suicides and even some legal hangings that occurred since it was built in the late 1930s. Swanner even cut down one of the suicides from the jail. It is these victims that many believe still walk the halls and rattle the doors of the cells at night.

    "We had some experiences," Thomas says. "We had some things happen that we can't explain. That is always the case though. We see, we hear, and sometimes we even feel things but can we explain them? Not really. But it is really cool to be there when it happens."

    However, Thomas didn't think his first experience with the paranormal was cool.

    Staying at his grandmother's house, Thomas and his friends used to play in an old graveyard behind her house. He says the dates on the headstones dated back to the mid to late 1800s. She didn't believe there was a graveyard back there so one day Thomas decided to prove to her it was there.

    "So one day I "borrowed" a headstone and took it to her to prove there was a graveyard back there," says Thomas. "I took it back but that night I had something happen I will never forget and one that set me on this path of paranormal investigation."

    Lying in his bed, Thomas says he heard footsteps coming toward his door. The door opened and he saw the figure of a person walk into the room. He thought it was his grandmother coming to scold him for being on the phone so late at night. But when the figure stopped at the foot of his bed and just stood there, Thomas said he had to do something.

    "I got up to turn on the light but nothing was there," says Thomas. "I turned the light off and got back into bed."

    And as soon as he settled in the figure was there at the foot of his bed again. This time, as Thomas with wide eyes looked on, the figure walked over to the window where the form blocked out a night light from outside.

    "I curled underneath a mountain of quilts and stayed there till morning," Thomas said. "From then on I've wondered if that was the person whose headstone I borrowed."

    As the team moved around the jail they say they saw shadows moving back and forth between the cells. Everyone, at one point when they were standing in the hall talking, heard a female voice coming from the section where females were normally held. And then there was the flashlight conversation Brown had with a possible spirit.

    "We've all seen it on TV where they lay a flashlight down on the floor or on a shelf and try to get the entity to turn it on and off in response to questions," says Brown. "Well, I had quite a conversation with a former inmate."

    Brown, utilizing the flashlight, determined by the yes and no responses the spirit was a former inmate who had committed suicide at the jail. Furthermore, Brown concluded the spirit hated the guards and that the guards treated the spirit terribly.

    "This spirit was really ticked off when the subject of the guards came up," says Brown. "I got the impression he was emphatic in his responses."

    During this time Thomas and the rest of the team watched from outside the room, amazed at what they were seeing.

    "I'm a spiritual guy and a Christian and I wonder if life after death is like the Bible says or is there something else to it," Thomas says. "The soul of a person may move on but maybe there is a part of them that can, not always, stay behind and this is what we experience. Frankly, I don't have a viable answer. No one does. But I like asking the questions."

    Isn't he afraid he might run into an evil spirit or entity?

    "I'm secure enough in my faith that I feel protected but at the same time I'm not going to walk around these places with a Ouija board either," Thomas says laughing. "All I really want to accomplish is to have good contact and maybe try and get some answers to some basic questions."

    Brown says the jail has a heavy atmosphere, meaning he found it depressing and extremely creepy.

    "I would categorize the events we experienced as residual hauntings, left over energies from those who were there," says Brown.

    No matter what they are or how they are still able to make themselves known to the living, the activities and questions surrounding the paranormal events people come in contact with will forever fuel the question, "What if?"