Monday, March 31, 2014

#86 The Graceville "Spook Lights" (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

The Graceville Spook Lights
The mysterious Graceville Spook Lights are #86 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

On the west side of Graceville, there is a spot where you can look up the old railroad bed and see two strange lights that appear at unpredictable intervals almost every night. Legend says the lights are the unhappy ghosts of a man and woman who were hanged from the railroad trestle over 100 years ago.

Graceville Spook Lights
To see them, head west on State Highway 2 across Holmes Creek into Holmes County and turn left onto St. Johns Road. Pull off the side of the road and walk back east on Highway 2 a short distance to the old rail bed. From that point, if you look up the old railroad into Graceville and have a little luck, you will see the lights. You have to look for them from the Holmes County side of the line, but the lights themselves are in Jackson county.

(One note, please respect private property rights and don't walk up the old railroad bed to try to see them better. Not only is it disrespectful, illegal and dangerous, the lights will just vanish. They can only be seen from the spot by Highway 2. Also, please do not stand in the roadway!  You might become a ghost yourself.)

Now on with the story...

Spook lights or ghost lights are popular parts of Southern culture and folklore. North Carolina has its Maco Light. Georgia has the Surrency Spooklight. Arkansas is known for the Gurdon and Dover Lights and Missouri is famed for the Seneca Light. Like the Graceville Spook Lights, such phenomena appear almost nightly under the right conditions.

The ghost story behind the Graceville lights revolves around the all but forgotten 1910 hangings of Hattie Bowman and Edward Christian. The two had been arrested on charges related to the murder of Deputy Sheriff Allen Burns, who had gone to Bowman's home while investigating the theft of a gold watch from a Graceville merchant.

Residents of northwestern Jackson County were infuriated by the murder of Deputy Burns. A large group of people forced their way into the jail on the night of September 2, 1910, and dragged away the prisoners:

Graceville, Fla., Sept. 3 - Dangling from a trestle just outside the town, this morning, were found the bodies of Ed. Christian...charged with shooting Deputy Sheriff Allen Burns, and Hattie Bowman...who had been arrested on the charge of being implicated in the crime. (Toledo Blade, September 8, 1910)

The mob had taken Christian and Bowman to the trestle over Holmes Creek, tied nooses around their necks, tied the other ends of the ropes to the trestle ties, and kicked the two off the bridge. No one was ever arrested for their murders.

Graceville Spook Lights
Two strange flickering lights have been seen ever since from the point where the railroad crosses the road just west of Graceville. The lights are best seen in the winter, when the leaves have fallen from the trees, and first appear as a bare flicker, then grow in brightness briefly before fading away. Legend holds they are the ghosts of Hattie Bowman and Edward Christian, still seeking justice 104 years after they died.

While the story itself is tragic, the mysterious lights are on the list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

The story is included in my book, The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge: Ten Stories of Ghosts & Monsters from Jackson County, Florida. It is available at Chipola River Book & Tea in downtown Marianna or online from in both print and Kindle editions:

The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge [Paperback]

The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge [Kindle]

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