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A spirited past: Ghost hunt in Prairie searches for evidence to prove we are not alone

 

Would-be ghost hunters gathered Oct. 15 in an abandoned World War II bunker on the grounds of the former Gulf Ordnance Plant in Prairie. After hearing some history of the site and accounts of paranormal activity, the group took part in an investigation conducted by the Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society. More hunts are set for Oct. 29-30.

Would-be ghost hunters gathered Oct. 15 in an abandoned World War II bunker on the grounds of the former Gulf Ordnance Plant in Prairie. After hearing some history of the site and accounts of paranormal activity, the group took part in an investigation conducted by the Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society. More hunts are set for Oct. 29-30. Photo by: Luisa Porter

 

Launch Photo Gallery

 

Linda Callahan shares an account of her late sister’s eerie experience in one of the plant’s aging buildings.

Linda Callahan shares an account of her late sister’s eerie experience in one of the plant’s aging buildings.
Photo by: Luisa Porter

 

Husband and wife Jennifer and Terry Sweeney of Amory founded the Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society in 2008.

Husband and wife Jennifer and Terry Sweeney of Amory founded the Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society in 2008.
Photo by: Courtesy

 

In this ruin of one Ordnance Plant building still standing, teams gained experience using specialized equipment.

In this ruin of one Ordnance Plant building still standing, teams gained experience using specialized equipment.
Photo by: Luisa Porter

 

This early 1940s photo shows a portion of the Ordnance Plant in Prairie as it looked during World War II. The entire munitions complex encompassed more than 6,000 acres.

 

Jimmy Langford of Sparta explains the role of different instruments to fledgling investigators waiting their turn for a solo experience in a dark tunnel. On the monitor, infrared cameras reveal a team leader helping a participant in the tunnel get set up.

 

In the old weapons factory, Barbara Hutson of Wren, left, and her daughter, Jenny, listen through static for any sign of communication from an unseen presence.

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

"I couldn''t go in it right now, nooo ma''am," Linda Callahan sat shaking her head dramatically from side to side. Her attentive audience -- about 25 men and women in a ragged circle of chairs -- are huddled by camp light at the entrance of a World War II-era concrete bunker in Prairie. The night outside, dark and waiting, is still. 

 

Everyone knows Linda is talking about the crumbling remains of the Gulf Ordnance Munitions Plant -- a place reputed to be rich in paranormal activity. A place they''re about to explore. 

 

Linda recounts a chilling phone call from her sister, Sammie, many years ago, when both Aberdeen women worked weekend security shifts at the near-empty plant, which was then a facility for Walker Manufacturing. 

 

"Linda, if you''re there, please pick up the phone! Please, Oh, God, help me!" Sammie''s hysterical voice rattled from her sister''s answering machine that Saturday. A terrified Sammie, alone at the plant, was adamant that she had encountered ghostly visitors -- a wounded Confederate soldier and a nurse.  

 

"I will always believe that she saw it," Linda said of her sister, who passed away in 2005. Sammie''s detailed description of the gray coat, brass buttons, black shoes ... of the nurse''s old-fashioned white uniform, with cuffs and white hat ... were as vivid as the bandage around the soldier''s head, stained with blood. Tales of "spooky" experiences abound about the plant, and Linda had had her own unsettling experiences.  

 

"Take my word for it, you just knew ... I don''t know what it is, and I don''t want to find out for myself, but I believe it with all my heart," she stressed. 

 

 

 

Rich past 

 

Those gathered at the bunker have come for a ghost hunting experience led by the Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society. As they listen, each wonders what the hours ahead hold in store. The sisters'' story is only one in a long line of eerie accounts spawned since the Ordnance Plant was rapidly built in 1942, on land that had been a Civil War battlefield and burial ground. 

 

"That may be the main source of the haunting," says Terry Sweeney. He and his wife, Jennifer, co-founded Mystic Para, as it''s called, in 2008. The Amory couple and another society member, Beth Vennerstrom, will lead the evening''s investigation. 

 

"This place has such a rich history; it''s fascinating. I''m surprised more people don''t know about it," Terry remarked. 

 

That anyone does is thanks in large part to Brent Coleman, an investigator with the Monroe County Sheriff''s Department. He has chronicled a history, and is working on a more expansive book, about the remarkable plant about 15 minutes from West Point that once incorporated more than 6,000 acres, contained 27 miles of railroad track, and employed about 7,000 people.  

 

From 1942 to 1945, the sprawling complex, complete with dormitories, churned out ammunition around the clock for the American war effort. After the war, some of the structures were home to a string of other manufacturing businesses. 

 

Like Callahan, Coleman has come to the bunker at the Sweeney''s request, to say a few words before the ghost hunting begins. 

 

"As an investigator, I keep an open mind," he tells the group in a level, no-nonsense voice. "I can tell you that in my research for the history of this place, I talked to a lot of people. I wasn''t after the unknown, or the mysterious; I was after the history, but I heard a lot of stories. I can tell you that I have interviewed several people who worked here in the ''80s who have very distinct memories of mysterious incidents." 

 

 

 

Mystic Para 

 

The Sweeney''s have investigated the Prairie plant several times. Their purpose in inviting the public in for a glimpse of an investigation is two-fold. "We''re not only doing this to show what we do, but also to get people interested in the history of this place, to help raise money for a historic marker here," explained Jennifer. 

 

In the course of neutral research and investigation of potential paranormal activity in private residences and historic sites, Mystic Para employs a variety of tools to prove -- and disprove -- unusual phenomena. 

 

Jennifer, a customer service representative, and Terry, an upholsterer, and the team use night vision security cameras, EVP (electric voice phenomenon) recorders, tri-field meters, an extensive DVR system, digital temperature recorders, an experimental communication device called a "Frank''s Box" (sometimes called a Ghost Box) and several other instruments. 

 

"We strive for the highest level of professionalism, and our main goal is to help those in need," stated Jennifer, the case manager. There is never a charge for an investigation. "This is what we do. We''re out there searching for evidence of paranormal activity and, at the Ordnance, we often find it." 

 

 

 

On the hunt 

 

As the bunker group splits into smaller teams that will rotate to three different sites on the plant grounds, Jennifer cautions matter-of-factly: "You will stay with your group; do not wander off. If you feel something that makes you uncomfortable, do not run. Come to your guide." She and Terry are careful not to promise paranormal activity. 

 

Structures still standing on the property are far apart and forlorn. At every opportunity, nature has reasserted herself. Where roofs are missing, trees topping 20 feet and more grow inside, surrounded by brush and thorns. Vines as thick as a wrist snake through windows that long ago lost their glass. Stars twinkle through networks of steel trusses. The atmosphere is expectant, but not ominous. The only illumination comes from the three-quarter moon above, and flashlights. 

 

In the three-story husk of the most visible landmark visitors see as they enter the property, one group spreads throughout the second floor, listening intently for recognizable words through the white noise of the "Frank''s Box" Jennifer has set on the ground.  

 

Farther away, in a debris-strewn hallway of another building, Beth''s team is measuring air temperature and looking for disturbances in electro-magnetic readings. One participant, Barbara, volunteers to go deeper into the dark hallway, to sit quietly, to be receptive to any sign of a presence.  

 

Gail Barnes of Golden is convinced something is there. 

 

"I grew up with ghosts; my grandmother''s house in Amory had ghosts," says Gail calmly. "In the hallway, I felt I saw something behind her," she said later. "I saw or felt different people and saw some movements. As far as I could tell, everything was very friendly, nothing threatening." 

 

At a third site about a half mile away, another team undergoes what may be the most testing of the night -- a solo experience in a long, dark munitions tunnel where a dominant spirit, "Philip," is said to have made his presence known in the past. Infrared cameras record as each person dons headphones and is shown how to work specialized devices before being left on their own. One woman is sure she heard footsteps approaching behind her in the tunnel and ends her session abruptly. 

 

There are no special effects, no actors, no attempts to make something happen. As the Mystic Para leaders tutor, there are no theatrics -- only an objective sharing of information, with bits of history about one of Mississippi''s most interesting and mysterious locations.  

 

"This is a wonderful place to investigate," said Jennifer. "We never expected it to be as active as it is. ... It''s not always as glamorous as it seems on television, but it is fun, spooky and very intriguing." 

 

"It''s hard to believe people don''t remember this place," said Terry. "But maybe that''s why the ghosts are here. Maybe they want us to remember."

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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