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Just in time for Halloween, a ghost hunt at Berry Hill
SoVaNow.com / October 28, 2010By SULLIVAN ROSE
Special to The News & Record
Halloween banishes summer to a coffin and creeps past fall into the undead silence of night. October devalues the light, and the colors of life change to the crisp, blood thirsty colors of autumn demise.
Along the fringes of the Dan River an eternal question stirs: What haunts arise at Berry Hill Resort? Is it possible that the stunning Greek revival mansion is a vortex of paranormal activity? — legend long says it is. Last Saturday night, a peculiar collection of paranormal investigators arrived at Berry Hill to investigate.
Curious about things like this, I have driven up from the Raleigh area.
Audrey Dickerson of WLUS radio in Oxford, N.C., a morning personality on “Mike and Audrey’s Most Music Morning Show” contacted GHOSTS of Raleigh as part of a Halloween contest to choose and investigate an alleged haunted house in the listening area. GHOSTS invited The Heritage Hunter Society and NCHAGS Paranormal Observers to assist — all made up of people who probe ghost mysteries after hours and on weekends.
Some of the investigators prefer to use only their first names. Why? It isn’t workplace intolerance or embarrassment, says Eddie, of NCHAGS, whose hobby is soon to be profiled his office newsletter. “People are just crazy,” he explains. Plus, unlike the TV ghost-hunters, “We’re not trying to get famous.”
The groups came to Berry Hill with open minds, satchels of equipment and a willingness to question the spirits that they believe may lurk and play. In addition to the ghost hunting groups was Dickerson, radio contest winner Tina Rice-Smith, of Virgilina, Cricket and myself.
Personally, I hoped the waters of time would glass over like a mirror and let me see into the mysteries of the past.
The investigation unfolded like a suitcase with computers and video cameras inside. There were EMF readers (for picking up electromagnetic fields), computers, PX devices (for detecting electromagnetic waves), paranormal pucks (a device said to help with communication), tape recorders, sound devices, infra-red cameras, videocameras and plain old cameras. Hardly competitive, the teams were respectful, thorough and observant, but more than that, friendly.
First, we traveled together to the Diamond Hill Slave Cemetery on the property — after all, at one time, Berry Hill plantation was one of the largest holders of enslaved workers in the South. The resort has carefully preserved the cemetery as a matter of respect and esteem.
While in the graveyard, sure enough, a PX device’s light indicators were set off — we think by a spirit(s) — and then the batteries were immediately drained even though brand-new batteries were in the device. Despite this, there was a pleasant energy about Diamond Hill. Almost every team member who visited Diamond Hill confessed that the place felt welcoming, inviting or restful.
“Thank you for allowing us to pay our respects,” investigators said as they departed. For a moment, I too felt an amiable peace — like a presence. Mike, the empath with NCHAGS, was especially sensitive to this humbling energy. An empath is someone who believes they picks up on or attract spirits.
Michael of Heritage Hunters Society asked the ghosts of the mansion, “Can you see me waving my hand?” On the voice recorder a spirit answers, “Yes.” Michael and Cricket were discussing a different haunting at a different location when the PX device suddenly jumped to life with beeps and flashes.
Different members spent time in different locations — the family graveyard, the ruins of a slave shack, the open fields, the suites in the mansion, the billiard room, the sitting rooms and more. All of the experiences were social and positive. Ghosts of Berry Hill seem to welcome visitors, perhaps remembering true Southern hospitality.
Investigators snapped photos at random points. Some of those pictures show a man who looks like Thomas Jefferson, though I am sure it was not. One set of pictures taken in rapid succession shows a dark shadow moving between the cameraman and the camera. A visiting newspaper reporter took the photo with one of the investigator’s cameras. Rice-Smith came away perplexed by her stairway shot that seems to show … pantalooned legs?
Beth and Don of GHOSTS consider the paranormal a journey of learning. Beth has had paranormal experiences outside of investigations. Is Berry Hill haunted? “I personally can’t say that Berry Hill Plantation is haunted. It’s very possible that there is something there,” Beth said. Though Beth did not obtain any evidence on her own, she was privy to evidence of other team members. Don was able to get some EVPs. She and Don do not accept the evidence at face value. Beth rules out much of her own evidence.
In the mansion, a curious spirit took a fancy to Dickerson, the deejay.
“Jeff, from NCHAGS, Tina Rice-Smith, the contest winner, and I were standing near the bar in the room adjacent to the sitting room,” said Audrey. “We were having a casual conversation about places that we had heard were possibly haunted. I had my arm propped up on the bar, but it was not touching my head, then suddenly I felt my hair go into my ear and tickled it. It as almost as if I had taken my hair, twisted it around and it tickled my ear that way. It was the strangest feeling, but it was exciting at the same time.”
Nearing 11 p.m., investigators pack up, eager to get back home and sift through their data. Often, images and sounds aren’t obvious until they’re seen in a snapshot or re-played on a recorder. Some of the groups post their findings on their websites, letting others draw their own conclusions about what’s a spirit and what’s not.
For more information on the Berry Hill visit, see ghostsofraleigh.com, heritagehunterssociety.com, or nchags.org. Sullivan Rose is a freelance writer with a special interest in travel and the paranormal. For her website: http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/147985/sullivan_rose.html
‘The Ghost of Berry Hill’
Its author, Richard Cecil Rogers, lived alone at Berry Hill from the early 1950s to 1967, taking care of the property for its absentee owner. A prolific poet, this is one of his most beloved works. In this, he writes at times in a black vernacular; Rogers himself was African-American. It first appeared in a predecessor to this newspaper, The South Boston News. A compilation of his work, “The Poet of Berry Hill,” was published in 2001 by the Halifax County-South Boston Museum.
Did you ever see a Spook or a Ghost?
Did you ever have a Haunt, or something almost
Whisper, with warm breath close to your ear,
Till it froze up your blood with horror and fear?
Now, the story I tell, oh! it frightens me still!
While I worked on a plantation, called "Old Berry Hill."
In a big old house, with its sprawling lawn,
That was built 'way back, before Hector was born.
With its sky-high ceilings and transomed doors,
Long shuttered windows, and broad board floors,
That creaked and cried, if you walked or if you ran!
Lord, it wasn't no place, for an old Colored man!
Cause people had died on every floor--
From the cellar to the attic, now this I know;
For a record was kept in black and white
But that record doesn't tell what happens at night!
No, that record will not tell, that the doors will slam!
That the windows will clatter, tho tightly jammed.
And that something tip-toes up the double stairs,
Like a Persian cat in her high-toned airs.
The record will not tell you, that while I slept,
That a woman came in, and raved and wept;
Hissing, and whispering, "Where can he be."
Staring, glaring wild-eyed, at me!
Oh! the cold chills ran the length of my spine,
My heart 'most stopped beating, I lost my weak mind.
And stared back at the woman, who stared at me.
And repeated her question, "Where can he be."
I thought of that woman, I'd promised to wed.
But why think of her, is my poor darling dead?
Has she come back to earth, in quest of me,
To hiss and whisper, "Where can he be?"
Oh, I shook, and I shivered, and covered my face.
And begged the Intruder, to please leave the place
But she stood and stared, thru her big eyes of brown,
Then pulled up a chair, and sat herself down.
She told me a tale, that I remember too well;
I promised her story, I never would tell.
Then there came a crash, like the breaking of morn!
I rolled out of bed, lo, the woman was gone!
Now, the story I tell, I have proof that backs
That this old Mansion still stands, in old Halifax.
With its sky-high ceilings and transomed doors.
And the Ghosts are still walking the creaky floors.
Big bats fly in from the grave yard hard by.
And the howling winds down the Whippoorwill's cry!
Big night Owls ask, "who, who, are youoooo?"
Then a voice cries, "Ise de Ghost, uv ol 'Mammy Louoooo!"
For eighty long years, ah lived hearh a slave.
Toiled in de sun, an' lolled in de shade.
Heart sore an' foot sore, wid a straw bunk to lie in;
Fur a pone uv corn bread, an' a rock cabin to die in.
But ah sung an' ah prayed, ah laffed an' ah cried.
Yes, ah lived while ah lived, den ah died, den ah died!
Den mar good White-folks in splender, laid me 'way,
To res' mar tired ol'bones, till de Judgement-day!
When de winder frames clatter, an' de lights all goes out,
An' de black cat purs de loudest, Ise some war' bout!
Now, dar aint no use uv hiding! kaze every thing ah see!
While ah lived, not a soul, nor a critter feared me!
Little Chillun, dey loved me, both de Whites and' de Blacks;
Tho ah yanked dem fum mischief, an' spanked dey young backs!
Den rocked dem to sleep, an tucked dem in bed.
Oh, it's de living' dat hurts you'and' never de Dead!
Fear de Livin', fear de Living', and never de Dead!
CommentsThis investigation was fantastic to participate in. There were so many things that happened. The Heritage Hunters Society got some EVPs, my neck got blown on by "something" and I broke out in goosebumps and started to laugh, but I felt just a little uneasy that something invisible could make physical contact like that.
- By Sullivan Rose on 10 / 28 / 10
CommentsWow what an amazing story and experience. I would love to visit a place like this. You did an excellent job writing this article and what a great opportunity to scare yourself half to death!
- By Shana Dines on 10 / 28 / 10
CommentsWhat a fantastic article and adventure to be sure! Bravo! Well done and so fascinating! Congratulations!
- By Cathy Montville on 10 / 28 / 10
CommentsThoroughly enjoyed this! I love your articles. They are so richly written.
- By Beth Wilson on 10 / 28 / 10
CommentsI like that graphic with a picture of Berry Hill in it.
- By Sullivan Rose on 10 / 28 / 10
CommentsWhat an interesting experience! I would love to have the opportunity to participate in a paranormal investigation. Thank you for sharing this well-written article, and congrats on having it published! You're a talented writer with lots of valuable info to share.
- By Crystal Ray on 10 / 29 / 10
CommentsVery interesting and a little scary. I enjoy your articles. You are an excellent writter.
- By Mayna on 10 / 30 / 10
CommentsVery interesting. I went to school with Bruce so reading it means a lot to me. Thank you
- By joanne gearns on 10 / 30 / 10
CommentsLove your writing--I've had the experience of living in a haunted house in Michigan.Finally just accepted it and moved after six months.Firm believer they walk among us.
- By Sarah FREY on 11 / 09 / 10
CommentsWe were amazed at what still resides at Berry Hill...Other than staff and guests who have enjoyed this hidden treasure from our times gone past...Your articles are so vivid and descriptive..Look forward to many more places to all work together again..Michael with THHS
- By Michael La Chiana on 01 / 01 / 11
- By Mindy Williamson on 05 / 02 / 11
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