The Haunted St. James

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The St. James hotel stands watchful over Selma, Alabama from its perch on the Alabama River banks. Both the St. James and Selma went through a spell where much of the area was depressed, dilapidated, and forgotten, but local groups and the government have been working to revitalize the area, and their diligence seems to have stirred up more than they bargained for.

The St. James Hotel in Selma, Alabama, is considered to be one of the most haunted places in Alabama. Many visitors to the hotel have reported accounts of hauntings and paranormal events. Located in the center of the historic district, overlooking the famous Alabama River, the building was constructed in 1837 and opened as The Brantley.

During the Civil War, the Brantley was occupied by Union troops during the Battle of Selma. Due to its concentration of Confederate arsenals and factories, the occupying army burned much of the city. Fortunately, the St. James and other structures on Water Street were spared. Together they form the heart of the revitalized historic district and represent one of the finest collections of antebellum industrial buildings in the South.

Following the war, the hotel was operated by Benjamin Sterling Turner; the first African American ever elected to the United States Congress. He reportedly hosted the legendary outlaw brothers Frank and Jesse James in 1881. In 1892, the hotel fell upon hard times and ceased operations.

The doors were closed on the building, and were not reopened for a century. A group of investors purchased the old hotel and after putting in approximately $6 million in restorations, they were able to officially reopen the doors of the establishment in 1997 as the St. James Hotel.

Since its reopening, two of the most reported “hauntings” in the hotel include Jesse James and his girlfriend Lucinda. Several have claimed to have seen the apparition of a man dressed in attire that was common for a man in the late 1800s. He is most often seen in the rooms in which he typically stayed – rooms 214, 314, and 315. However, he also has been sighted at a certain table in the bar.

Many things are known about Lucinda. For one, she enjoyed the scent of lavender so much that when someone smelled the scent, they knew she was near. Today, several witnesses claim they are able to smell lavender with no logical explanation. In other instances, a full apparition of Lucinda is said to be walking the halls of the structure.

In the area of the courtyard, many strange events have been reported. First, several witnesses have observed what appears to be residual hauntings of individuals who are fully clothed in dress that was common to the 1800s. They seem unaware of the “living” surrounding them.

Additionally, the sounds of apparent ghost dogs can be heard in the area. Jessie James, some have said, once owned a black dog that was his companion for many years. Many guests at the St. James have reported hearing a dog running up and down the halls. Also, guests in the hotel would often complain about a dog that would bark non-stop in the courtyard. When management would look into their complaints, no dog was ever found in the courtyard.

Psychics and investigators have been brought into the St. James to give the current management a better idea of what is happening in the hotel. Interestingly, they have picked out more than just these 3 entities. Psychics have described groups of apparitions in the inner courtyard, dressed in 1880′s clothing, going about their business and unaware of the living. Perhaps it is these ghosts of the past that cause the odd, inexplicable sounds heard from that space. Mischievous entities will bang glassware together until told to stop, a man has been seen sitting on a bench in the drinking room, and in room 304, a cook who was staying in the room complained about the curtains moving for no logical reason and bright flashes of light. A psychic claims to have spoken to that specter and discovered that the entity was angry that he passed away before finishing some business he wanted to do.

The most amusing occurrence happened in the Brantly Ballroom. A team of paranormal investigators had been tape recording the room hoping to get an Electronic Voice Phenomenon. They asked the question “Is anyone here?” When playing the tape back later on, they quite clearly heard a gruff voice reply “Well, that’s a stupid question.”

Whether you believe in the supernatural or just enjoy visiting beautiful historical landmarks, the St. James Hotel should be added to your list of must-see Alabama locations.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

One response to “The Haunted St. James

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