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History Center recounts tales about ghosts of Gainesville
Three stories tell of souls haunting city and Brenau University
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Kathy Amos, director of the Center for Lifetime Study at Brenau University, recounts the story of Agnes, Brenau’s most infamous ghost known for her spooky piano playing in Pearce Auditorium. - photo by J.K. Devine

For years, many groups have been investigating the historical haunts of Gainesville and trying to find explanations for the ghost stories passed down through the generations.

The Northeast Georgia History Center began celebrating these spooky stories 10 years ago when it introduced a “Ghost Walk,” in which participants tour Brenau University to hear the legends of those who supposedly still walk the halls of old buildings in Gainesville.

Again this year, the Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research shared investigative equipment used to communicate with the legendary spirits and revealed some evidence the paranormal is active in Gainesville.

 “Each year, Ghost Walk has never disappointed us,” said Donna Uetschi, SIPR’s electronic voice phenomena specialist.

The group recorded a number of voices in Pearce Auditorium, including one supposedly from behind a false door, saying “check again,” to a female scream.

So the SIPR investigates each fall to find evidence of the paranormal while guides on the Ghost Walk tell a handful of stories of the ghastly Gainesville beings ranging from Agnes, the infamous Brenau University ghost, to the “Lady of the Lake” who haunts a bridge on Dawsonville Highway. Here are a few of the stories shared on the tour.

 The lady of the lake

Since Lake Lanier was created in the 1950s, it has been the site of a host of unusual happenings. In fact, one of the most prevalent ghostly tales in the area is of a lady in blue wandering up and down the bridge on Dawsonville Highway, just outside of Gainesville.

“Delia Parker Young was a young lady (who) worked at Riverside Military Academy,” Brenau professor Ted Garner said. “In April of 1958, Delia borrowed a blue dress, and her friend Susie Roberts came to pick her up in her 1954 blue Ford for a night out.”

The pair was headed to Three Gables in Dawsonville, but the women never returned.

“They were traced from the Three Gables to a gas station nearby, where they left without paying,” Garner said. “There were skid marks along the road near the bridge, and it looked as though the car had crossed the center line and went off the side of the road.”

Police searched for the car in the water but to no avail.

Their disappearance remained a mystery until 18 months later when a body floated up from the water as C.A. Simpson was fishing under the Dawsonville Highway bridge. Identification was not possible because the body had dentures. But it had a couple of striking attributes.

“The body was missing two toes on her left foot and had no hands,” Garner said, noting the woman on the bridge seemed to be without her hands.

The woman’s body was buried in Alta Vista Cemetery in an unmarked grave, and people continued to speak of seeing a woman in blue, wandering on the bridge.

Then in November 1990, construction on the bridge revealed another clue. A blue 1950s Ford sedan with a body inside it was recovered with remnants of a sweater and slip nearby. A purse, some sunglasses, rings and ultimately a watch helped identify the body.

“After 32 years, Susie Roberts’ family used the watch to identify her,” Garner said.

The unmarked grave in Alta Vista was replaced with a headstone for Delia Mae Parker Young, and Susie Roberts received proper burial.

Despite being found and identified, Delia Young still is seen wandering the bridge in her blue dress, lost on dark nights looking for her hands and her way home.

Agnes

For many years, Brenau students were told of a lady who came to the university and never left. Some stories say she hanged herself from a diving board. Others claim she hanged from a balcony. And some say she drowned.

“When we started Ghost Walk 10 years ago, we had a wonderful time telling a story that we thought was true,” said Kathy Amos, a storyteller on the Ghost Walk, noting a newspaper debunked the tale. “What we can prove and what we can’t prove doesn’t matter,” Amos said. “The story is still here.”

According to the story, music-loving, piano-playing Agnes lived in Wilkes Hall in the 1900s and fell in love with her dapper piano teacher. Following winter break, Agnes returned to school only to discover her beloved teacher had become engaged over the holiday.

“She went back to her room in Wilkes, slid her dresser under the chandelier, tied a rope to the chandelier and jumped off her dresser,” Amos said. “Some nights you can come here (Pearce Auditorium) and hear piano music played in this space.”

The 1903 mill disaster

Gainesville residents are very familiar with the tornado that devastated the town in 1936. However, few know of the second-deadliest tornado in the city’s history, leading to one of the most haunted buildings in the area.

In June 1903, residents awoke to a clear sky and nice weather for the working day ahead. Men, women and children went to work at the Gainesville Cotton Mill in the industrial section of town — now near the Amtrak station.

“In the afternoon, workers were coming back from the mill village from lunch,” said Bryan Sorohan, a Brenau University professor of education. “Even children as young as 6 years old would go to work in the mill, and the main jobs they did were pretty dangerous.”

The women and children worked on the top two floors of the mill. When the tornado hit, both floors were demolished.

“There were 88 dead in the mill,” Sorohan said. “One woman declined the chance to identify a body as her son because he had no head.”

It is believed those spirits haunt the building, which is a data storage warehouse. Employees say they constantly see movement out of the corners of their eyes, hear feet running or sounds of machines being dragged across the floor.

And some sightings include people or body parts.

“One lady was on her break and saw the door knob jiggle and a hand come out,” Sorohan said. “A mill worker of 33 years went up to get chairs, heard the elevator open and saw someone walking toward him. The figure disappeared when it reached the sunlight.”

Happy haunting

Some believe ghosts don’t realize they are dead. Others think they get caught in a loop of activity. Many believe they come back to deliver a message or exact revenge.

No matter the experience or the belief, people in Gainesville might not be alone this Halloween. Those headed to the lake may see Delia Young wandering around with them. Women of Brenau might hear ghostly music from Agnes’ favorite stage, and industrial workers might find themselves with a little extra help in the warehouse this holiday.

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