Every county in Georgia has at least one ghost story, and author Jim Miles has gathered them into three books.
“Haunted North Georgia,” “Haunted Central Georgia” and “Haunted South Georgia” were published by The History Press on Oct. 2.
“I have always wanted to do a book about Georgia to get the people to see it as one big whole. Being into paranormal, the idea struck me that I could collect one good story for every county in Georgia,” Miles said. “I really didn’t understand how hard that was going to be.”
Miles traveled to all 159 counties, as well as two counties that “went extinct” during the Great Depression. The completion of the books was a 10-year project for Miles.
“I wanted to find a story from every conceivable source, and probably the single best source were the old vertical files in libraries,” Miles said. “My wife and I went across the state to every regional and large library. We found ghost stories dating back 150 years.”
In Hall County, the library itself is also supposedly haunted.
The Hall County Library System headquarters in downtown Gainesville has had multiple sightings and experiences with “The Lady of the Library,” sometimes known as “Elizabeth.”
“Over a century ago the land was occupied by the home and cemetery of the Brown family. In 1926 the graves were removed to Alta Vista Cemetery and the house transported to Broad Street in Gainesville,” according to chapter 28 of Miles’ North Georgia book. “The property became the location of the Wheeler Hotel, where a woman was murdered. After the site hosted a drive-in bank, Hall County constructed the Gainesville branch and headquarters of the Hall County Library System there.”
Those who have seen the woman, who dresses in black, set her in the Victorian era, according to Miles. Experiences include lights turned on and off, books found displaced from shelves and water turned on in the bathroom.
Miles said “ghosts are a shared cultural experience.”
“People love ghost stories. I do speaking engagements and book signings — people come up to me, and if they don’t have a personal story they can recount several stories by friends and family,” Miles said. “We all have some story, and we are willing to read about people who may have had the same or similar thing happen to them.”
North Georgia is home to more than its fair share of ghosts, from scenic antebellum mansions to restaurants, mills and even an outhouse, according to Miles.
The “Haunted North Georgia” synopsis notes a night watchman at an Elberton cotton mill becoming acquainted with three haunting visitors in his four decades at the mill, as well as hikers on Lookout Mountain surprised to discover a mysterious house eerily decorated with magical symbols and bones.
“One of my favorites is from Habersham County. There is an old Native American fort with a large circle made of loosely stacked stones,” Miles said. “I found in a book by James Mooney, ‘Myths of the Cherokee’ published in 1900, that the local settlers had a tradition when they walked past this stone enclosure.”
Miles said the settlers would throw large logs and rocks into the Fort Mountain enclosure.
“The next generation to come around found that the debris had been thrown out of the circle. The Cherokee believe there are ancient gods that live there and took offense of the intrusion of white settlers,” Miles said. “My wife and I found that fort over 40 years ago, and it is still there, still in good shape, but the Cherokee gods have moved along because it is littered with all types of debris. I like the idea that this story has origins 2,000 years in Georgia’s past.”
Miles also said there is a story from neighboring Banks County about Fort Hollingsworth.
“It started as a frontier fort when the early settlers were still afraid of being attacked by Native Americans. It was a sturdy structure that became a house, which a family lived in for several generations,” Miles said. “It is now a historic site that people can visit and it has a very strong ghost. The ghost behavior there is predominant — on occasion the house will experience a giant crash like all the windows fell and broke at one time. It rattles everyone, but there is no evidence or reason it happens.”
Miles said “it is a very specific family-type ghost” believed to be one of the ancestors that was killed by an artillery shell during the Civil War.
“There are good stories from every society from the beginning of time, and they don’t really change. There were ghosts that haunt structures, railroads and roads, and we still have those stories today,” Miles said. “Over time our society changed, but the idea of ghosts and what they do in our environment has not changed a bit.”
The stories span all of Georgia history, from one with its origins 2,000 years ago to the latest in “scientific ghost hunting.” Some stories are scary and convincing, while others are comical and farcical, according to Miles.
“The whole concept here is to do something about Georgia to remind people we are a very large and diverse state,” Miles said. “I want people to get out there and travel around and see parts of Georgia they have never even thought about.”
The Haunted Georgia series can be found in local bookstores and online at Amazon and www.arcadiapublishing.com.
Miles is author of seven books of the Civil War Explorer Series, Civil War Sites in Georgia and two books titled “Weird Georgia.” He has also written seven books about Georgia ghosts. He has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in education from Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus. He taught high school American history for 31 years. He lives in Warner Robins with his wife, Earline.