North and South Carolina are two of the oldest states in the country. The first English colonies of South Carolina were established in 1712 and the first colonies of North Carolina were set up in 1729, but the oldest traces of humans on these lands date back as far as 10,000 years ago. Like the rest of America, these are lands full of ghosts.
The Colonial region of the United States has courted a long relationship with the paranormal. Stories of strange creatures roaming the forests, of shipwrecked coasts, and of strange little towns with secrets have lived here almost as long as the people have.
So, I decided to take a day trip to find ghosts near me.
As someone writing about the paranormal, it’s strange knowing that these stories grow out of your backyard. Convenient too. A trip to its haunted corners was easy to plan and carry out, and it made a good excuse to go on a drive with a friend. So, that’s exactly what me and my photographer for this article did. What I found is that exploring your backyard can feel mundane, until you come across something new. Afterward, the whole experience of living there can shift, maybe permanently. I left my home in Charlotte, North Carolina around 3 in the afternoon on a Monday in July and came home at 10 pm with a story. It’s a story not just about the land around me, but about me and the people (and the ghosts) who live there with me.
My traveling companion was my long-time friend and train photographer, Jasper. In a lot of ways, he’s a typical photographer in his 20’s: meticulous, shy, and tall but slouched. He spends his days chasing trains across the city and moonlights as an adventurous road-tripper, despite a nervous temperament. In the driver’s seat was me, an author-illustrator, extraverted, standing only a little over 5 feet tall, with faint scars over my legs from hiking and childhood wanderings in the woods. People have called me “fearless”, “bizarre”, and “the type of person to over-intellectualize everything”. We were the perfect team.
We didn’t have a destination in mind, my only goal was to get on state route 55, a road dotted with abandoned homes and buildings. It can be difficult in the days of GPS and navigational aids to find haunted places. It took us 45 minutes to get on track and then onto our route. When we did find our way, the changes in our environment were rapid. The skyline thinned, then the buildings became scarce, and as soon as we passed Lake Wylie we were suddenly in farmland. This isn’t unusual in the Carolinas; one doesn’t need to drive longer than an hour outside of the suburbs to find themselves surrounded by empty fields. After an hour and ten minutes of wandering along 55, watching toppled buildings and herds of livestock go by, we stumbled into Clover, South Carolina.
Our First Stop
Clover began in 1876 as a railway stop when the train first arrived in the northern United States, as a stopover between Yorkville and what would become Gastonia. From a place that began as simply necessary, it’s just beginning to grow into a trendy little town with jaunty bars and hangout spots selling IPAs and Kombucha. However, after only a few minutes of admiring the empty southern-Victorian style houses, we found its history out in plain sight, right on the main street.
On a broad, flat stretch of grass and fenced in only on a few sides is a four-story concrete and brick building. Shiny with broken, blue-glass windows that dominate the walls, its presence is enormous. It sits directly in front of the main highway with nothing to obscure it and only a small strip mall across the street. Beside it is a tiny office building with cracked, 60’s-style windows embossed with floral patterning. Through the remaining glass, sitting on a decaying dresser, we could see unused ‘Private Property: No Trespassing’ signs and a document from the city, likely announcing its foreclosure, all covered in a layer of dust. Trumpet Vine has overtaken both structures on a few sides, as if the field is trying to swallow it up and hide it. The wind was passing through the broken glass, making a dry, hushed sound of rushing air.
We might have accidentally trespassed onto private property.
Jasper looked between the huge factory building and me and announced, “I’ve gotta find a way in there.”
“No way,” I said. I’d seen enough horror movies to know where this went. He was determined though. When we found a gap in the fence, he insisted we get closer. I, not seeing any signs posted against trespassing, shrugged and agreed.
When we got closer to the building and looked through the broken windows onto a broad, dusty floor, I was ready to get a few shots through the panes and go. There was a muted horror to seeing an abandoned factory plant and I felt chilled just being near it.
“I’ve gotta get in there,” Jasper said, and raced to the front of the building.
When he found the front door not only unlocked but slightly ajar, he went straight in. Not wanting to leave my friend wandering an empty building, I insisted we find a brick to hold the door open and followed him at a distance. I took out my phone and began to record my observations.
Inside, the air was dry and carried a slight echo. Teal and white paint peeled in strips off the splintering wood walls and dust rested in piles. Everything smelled old and chemical, a mix of drying spray paint, car wax, and aging linoleum. Trash lay everywhere and in the darker corner of the floor were several old cars, their windshields smashed and marked with graffiti. The most recent bumper sticker we could find was from 2004. Even with the summer sunlight flowing in from the wall of pockmarked windows, the atmosphere was cloying and tragic, as if we were on the scene of a disaster.
The worst part was the service elevator. The old-fashioned button panel was falling off the wall and debris filled the bottom of the empty (?) shaft. I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but it was awful to be near it.
Something was wrong with the elevator shaft.
There was a twisted metal dolly inside, lying on top of a pile of debris. It was too dark to see what exactly the debris consisted of. It looked like it could’ve been dirt or ash or simply rotted garbage. When Jasper pointed out the cars behind me, I was ready to take any excuse to walk away from it.
As of writing this, while listening back to my recordings, I notice that the first 2 minutes are almost indistinguishable under a low, popping static before suddenly clearing up. I know how to take these recordings and it’s not likely that I had my palm or fingers covering the microphone. A friend of mine, a professional chemical scientist, listened in on them and noted that the sound reminded her of the noise created by electromagnetic radiation. As I recall, the recording cleared up at the same time that I walked away from the elevator.
On the easternmost wall were several desks, covered with empty cans of spray paint, red bull, and beer. One desk looked like the kind a manager or administrator might sit at, where they keep records and employee documents. Some of the drawers looked as though they’d been flung open and emptied in a hurry.
To the left was a back exit to an outside alcove, where cans of paint were stacked in a pyramid, producing a thick odor in the heat. Disturbingly, there was a section of the floor that had been cut away to reveal what might have been an underground air duct or service tunnel. It was just a dark, rectangular cut ditch in the ground, going under the wall to parts unknown. Outside the building were several rusted pieces of machinery, whose purpose I could not figure out.
And then my photographer sprinted away.
I was thinking out loud about how several Oldsmobile cars could’ve ended up on the first floor of what I later confirmed was a textile mill when Jasper rounded the outside corner and stepped into the field. I heard a sound in the distance, and he turned to me suddenly. “We gotta leave,” he said.
I thought he was nervous about being spotted by someone at the strip mall across the street and I shrugged. “Okay,” I said
“Run,” he said.
“Run? What do you mean ‘run’?”
He took off at a sprint and I, realizing I would not be able to keep up, took cover behind a jutting wall.
When I realized that a murderer was not chasing us down, I followed his trail slowly, trying to figure out what had happened. Then, I heard a police siren ‘whoop’ once from behind the thick cover of vine over the fence. Jasper called my phone and informed me that the police wanted to talk to us. Apparently, the sound I had heard was an officer who had called out to Jasper when he saw him standing in the grass. Seeing this, Jasper panicked and fled. This prompted three officers and a fourth in a patrol car to stop and question him at the fence he had slipped through and now they were looking for me.
Turns out that was the cops.
When I caught up to him, I saw him standing nervously across from three amused-looking Clover Policemen. One of them was checking his ID, while the one closest to us was smiling good-humoredly, explaining to us that if he hadn’t bolted, he wouldn’t have stopped us. Hoping to ease the tension and assure them that we were just casual trespassers, I pulled on the hat I had been wearing before the chase began: a dark green ballcap with the words ‘PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR’ embroidered across the front. He smiled.
“Seen any ghosts yet?”
I grinned at him, aware of how dumb the two of us looked. “Not yet, but we hope to.”
Fortunately for the two of us, Jasper and I had a lot of privilege in this situation. Had we been anything but two unintimidating white young adults with no prior record, I may have been more worried. As things stood though, I was a bit glad to be pulled away from the old textile factory.
We made small talk while they checked our IDs, then we were free to leave. We said goodbye and set off for a few more sights, leaving the textile mill behind.
The mystery of Clover, SC
As I came to find out, the factory was once a yarn plant called Southern Industries of Clover, one of the last that closed in South Carolina as overseas competition forced American textiles to shut down. It’s been a popular destination for urban explorers and photographers since its final closure in 2007. According to locals, a local motor shop used the building as extra space to hold vehicles they were working on. What was in the elevator shaft, and what could have been creating the strange interference though, I still don’t know. I hate to imagine what it’s like after dark.
Some of the farmland around it was in a similar state of disrepair. Mobile homes ravaged by storms and left to collapse, graying barns, piles of lumber and weeds where homes once stood. I had the same feeling from before, as we walked through the shell of Southern Industries. A feeling that I was intruding on a scene I didn’t belong in. Like I was a voyeur prying into the lives of strangers.
As we drove by ranch houses and empty fields, I wondered if there was something on the land watching me or if we were the ghosts, watching the land from a detached distance. Are there ghosts in Clover? Or anywhere? If there are, could we find them?
I kept thinking about it as we drove back towards home and our next stop.
The ghosts of the Cajun Queen
The Cajun Queen is a small but popular restaurant on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte, next to the local community college campus and a few blocks from Uptown proper. The restaurant operates out of the 100-year-old former home of an unknown woman. Guests and employees claim to have witnessed ghostly activity there, including instances of flying straws and breaking bottles. The story of who the ghost is changes based on who you talk to, but two popular versions exist. Either the former owner is angry that her upstairs bedroom is now a bar or she’s looking for a drink herself.
We hurried back to town to make it before closing at 8:30 and arrived with an hour to spare. The building is tiny, and they’ve made no efforts to hide its previous life as a residence. The back porch is now covered outdoor seating, our table was right next to the fireplace mantle, and nothing has been built onto it.
I ordered a ‘peach aloha’, a cocktail of peach vodka, pineapple juice, lemon juice, and ginger ale while Jasper had a Pepsi.
As we waited for our entrees, I took the opportunity to explore. Mardi gras style swing played over the speakers as I climbed the stairs to the infamous bar. There, I found an assortment of guests, packed close together and watching TV in a tiny room. Some of them looked like they had come together and some of them looked like they were strangers to each other, but everyone was seated so close that they couldn’t move without bumping elbows. No one seemed uncomfortable though, enjoying the music and the small television set in relative quiet, chatting unhurriedly. Walking down the hall and past the upstairs balcony, I saw the sun lowering in the sky. I realized how long the day had been. I was tired and ready to be off my feet, but I was also glad to be there, having an adventure.
Jasper tells me a ghost story
When I came back downstairs to our food (my French Cut Pork Chop and Jasper’s Shrimp & Grits) we ate and talked about the experience so far.
“I’m still shaken up about that whole encounter with the cops,” he said.
“One day I’m sure you’ll look back on it and laugh. It wasn’t a big deal,” I said.
“I hope you’re right.”
“Forget about it… Do you believe in ghosts? I don’t think I ever asked you.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Jasper, pulling the shells off his shrimp.
“You say that so nonchalantly! Did something happen?”
“Yeah, I felt something one time.”
He went on to tell me about the encounter that turned him into a believer.
While uptown, he’d stopped in for a look at the Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte, a historic boutique hotel that opened in 1929. It’s supposedly haunted by a playful ghost, affectionately called “Dusty”. A few of the floors and rooms are alleged hotspots for paranormal activity and human remains were once unearthed under the elevator shaft during renovations. Jasper had somehow wandered past the desk clerk and was exploring the tenth floor when he said he “felt something was off”. He couldn’t offer me any specifics other than to say there had been ‘a presence’ on the floor. Since then, he has believed in the existence of ghosts.
He said he felt there was a presence with us in the restaurant too, but a good energy as well. I noted that everyone seemed very relaxed and happy for a Monday night. We ultimately agreed that it felt a lot like being guests in someone’s house. Whoever once owned the home that Cajun Queen operates out of, I think, is glad to host her guests.
Did I find ghosts?
After our dessert (I had the Bourbon Bread Pudding and Jasper had the Oreo Cheesecake) we had one last photoshoot at a bridge overpass off of Elizabeth. Jasper wanted a photo of the lightning brewing in the thunderheads over the city skyline. It hadn’t been part of the plan, but he happened to have his tripod with him and wanted to try his hand at some long-exposure shots.
Leaning by the side railing, punctuated occasionally by the *click* of the shutter, I thought about our day. When I started this trip, I’d hypothesized that being in an empty place would create the imagined presence of ‘ghosts’. A busy place with lots of people wouldn’t. I felt that, when placed in a certain context of emptiness and abandon, the mind would conjure ghosts. We’re such social animals that I think we’d rather believe that ghosts are with us than be alone in a dark, empty place. But I felt the Cajun Queen had a spirit, albeit a friendlier one than whatever was in Clover. When I looked down the halls and onto the back porch, I kept expecting to see the face of a friendly ghost-hostess.
I believe in an afterlife, but I’m not sure I had any paranormal experiences that day. Paranormal experiences are things that happen to guys with EMF detectors and headlamps. It’s hard for me to imagine a ‘normal’ person like me and Jasper encountering ‘real ghosts’. After all, I could find no evidence of anyone dying at the textile mill or at Cajun Queen. It feels silly to imagine a place as being haunted without any deaths to its name. If I suggested it to someone they might ask “haunted by who?”
But perhaps, the ghosts that haunt places like Clover Industries and Cajun Queen and the Dunhill aren’t totally human. Maybe, they’re the ghosts of the buildings and their history, their abandonment, their popularity. Out of their interactions with humans, they gain a kind of soul of their own.
How to give a building a soul
French Philosopher Gaston Bachelard believed that “all really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home.” (Bachelard 2014) That all buildings that house humans at some point become a kind of ‘house’. He felt that “the chief benefit of the house” was to “[protect] the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” The shelters we build function as a place where the human imagination and psyche can be stored and explored. They’re where we feel safest to fantasize, create, meditate, and self-reflect. Bachelard felt that our minds and our buildings begin to mirror one another, until a place can become the physical incarnation of our memories and imaginations. This ‘dreaming’ might produce some of its ghosts, even in ordinary places.
I think Clover Industries and Cajun Queen are haunted by their histories. The dreams and the memories of us. Cajun Queen is fortunate enough to be filled with good food and company. Clover Industries was left with the memories of a lost American industry and all the people who left it behind and never came back.
Bachelard, Gaston. 2014. The Poetics of Space. New York: Penguin Books.