October 31, 2013 10:01:22 AM
William Browning - [email protected]
Among the unknown Confederate soldiers buried beneath Magnolia trees in Friendship Cemetery last week, Matt Garner took a picture at sunrise.
It was dark when he arrived. A page designer for The Dispatch, Garner often visits the cemetery in his off time to take photographs. Even in the earliest hours he usually encounters a few people walking the cemetery for exercise. But this morning no one else was there. Garner was alone -- or so he thought.
He set his camera on a tripod, pointed it east and took 10 photographs. He hoped to catch the sunlight, falling through Magnolia limbs, casting the shadows of Confederate grave markers. He captured something else.
When Garner developed his photographs he discovered that in the middle of one photo, hovering just above the ground, is the image of a face. It has dark and hollow eyes. There is a suggestion of a grin. No body is attached to it.
The face, which appeared to be transparent, appeared in only one of the photographs Garner made that morning.
Garner, 32, has only been scared once in Friendship Cemetery, when he heard the sound of a door shutting coming through a nearby forest. That was months ago. He was unnerved by the sound a little and tells himself it was made by cypress trees rubbing together.
How does he explain the image of a face his camera captured last Wednesday at sunrise? He tells himself this: it was an optical illusion created by a slight push of wind and sunlight reflecting off his camera's lens.
"It's an amazing coincidence that I could not recreate," he said.
With this being Halloween there will be many ghosts out tonight. It is a day also known as All Hallows' Eve and comes just before a stretch of year when oldtimers remembered the dead.
The Columbus area -- Halloween or not -- is a place of ghosts.
Three of the most commonly known:
■ Friendship Cemetery, created in 1849, is the final resting place of many soldiers who fell at the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War in 1862. Some say a Confederate soldier often walks the cemetery late at night to keep watch on his fallen comrades.
When the possibility of the face he captured belonging to the ghost was brought up, Garner thought for a moment, and said, "I've never personally seen anything, but I wouldn't be surprised if the history of Friendship Cemetery was trying to tell us something."
■ Waverly Mansion, built in 1852 and located between Columbus and West Point, is said to be haunted by a little girl who died there one night in 1862. Jimmy Benning, tour guide at the mansion and plantation, said the story is the 18-month-old girl was spending the night inside the 8,000 square foot mansion when she got up alone to explore. On a staircase, she stuck her head through two spindles and somehow fell, breaking her neck and dying.
For years, people have claimed to have heard a child's voice echoing through the mansion, saying, "Mama, mama." And sometimes, in the Red Room, the impression of a child's body can be found on the bed.
But the ghost isn't threatening.
"She's just a shy little girl looking for her mother," Benning said.
■ Callaway Hall, on The W's campus, is said to be haunted by the ghost of someone named Mary. The building was constructed before the Civil War and housed wounded soldiers during the war. Mary, the story goes, was a nurse at Callaway Hall during the Civil War and fell in love with a soldier she nursed back to health. He went back off to war, though, and Mary never heard from him again. The legend is that in her grief she jumped to her death from the building. Now her ghost wanders the residence hall's fourth floor looking for her lost love.
For more information on area ghosts you can visit www.southernspiritguide.blogspot.com.
Also on the web
For more ghost stories, check out local author James Tracey's Halloween short story based on the Mississippi State campus at redfogof1935.weebly.com
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.