While flipping through old photos a few days ago, I smiled when seeing my late friend and fellow outdoor writer Gary Clancy smiling with a big buck he arrowed a couple of seasons before he died in 2016.
Seeing Clancy’s photo reminded me of an Alabama bowhunt arranged by Cuz Strickland of Mossy Oak in January 1999. Before turning in the first night, our hosts told hunting camp ghost story after ghost story about the old place where we were staying.
When I awoke a few hours later for a bathroom break, I had to talk myself to get out of bed and risk a ghostly encounter.
“Come on, Pat,” I urged. “You’re a grown man. Show you’re not afraid of no ghost. Get out of bed, walk to the bathroom and tend to business.”
Still I lay there, wondering if I should leave the safety of my blankets. Clancy, Strickland and I were at the Lee Haven deer hunting lodge, which just happens to have a verifiably haunted house for its headquarters.
That was a new deer hunting experience for me. I know some hunters admit to being scared of the night woods, which I understand. For instance, I’ve had bobcats and owls screech nearby in the dark. Each time it happened, I wondered if I should discreetly check my shorts.
But haunted houses? Stop it! Even though our Southern hosts assured us the big antebellum home was a registered haunted house, I wondered if they were just having fun with us Yankees.
Do I really believe in Hunting Camp Ghosts?
The hunt had started innocently. After we arrived Jan. 20, our host, Spence Bonjean, educated our group of the lodge’s rules and hunting regulations. After the indoctrination, Bonjean told us the house in which we were staying was built in 1854 by slaves owned by Col. Edward Lee, a cousin of Robert E. Lee, the famous Confederate general.
Bonjean then paused, looked serious and said matter-of-factly: “This is one of about 130 registered haunted houses in the country. It has two ghosts, Col. Lee and his great-granddaughter, Bessie Hudson. Miss Bessie was killed in this house by her Dalmatians in 1952.
“Weird stuff happens here, but don’t worry. The hunting camp ghosts never hurt anyone. They scare someone every now and then, but it’s usually when the person is here alone. They don’t do much when a lot of people are here.”
Fascinated, I asked, “What do they do?”
Bonjean asked Darrell Daigre, then the vice president of marketing for Mossy Oak camouflage company, to answer. Daigre often spent time at the lodge, and was there when Mossy Oak bought the property and cleaned up the old house.
Daigre said the hunting camp ghosts often turn on the radio and TV late at night, turn lights on and off, slam doors, put flowers in vases, walk across creaky floors, and turn on Bonjean’s car alarm, which never sounds anywhere but at Lee Haven.
Bonjean said he once heard Bessie Hudson’s ghost calling his name when he was on the porch. He and Daigre also recalled an old Ouija Board that couldn’t be thrown away. When they were cleaning out the house shortly after the purchase, they threw the Ouija Board into the trash five or six times and took everything to the dump.
They claimed the Ouija board was back on the kitchen table each time they returned from hauling the junk. Finally, they had someone else burn it.
They also recalled the time a 7-year-old boy stayed over with his father. The boy knew nothing of ghosts. His father awoke in the middle of the night, realized his son wasn’t in bed, and heard faint crying. He found the boy hiding in the bathroom between the toilet and the bathtub. The boy frightfully told his father: “That lady in there won’t talk to me!”
The boy said he had gotten up to go to the bathroom, and saw a woman in a rocking chair in the bedroom he passed. However, when his father checked the only bedroom in the hall, he found it had long been nailed shut. He calmed the boy and put him back into bed. Soon after, “Bessie Hudson” entered their room. They ran to their car and raced home, never to return.
Those stories and others ran through my head when I went to bed an hour later. Two times during that first of three nights in the house, I awoke aching to answer nature’s call, but I couldn’t goad myself into leaving the bed. Finally, I awoke a third time in severe discomfort. I assured myself those Southern boys were just getting into my head with wild yarns.
I strode purposefully down the hallway and entered the bathroom. I looked at my watch and saw it was 3:30 a.m. Minutes later, when I opened the bathroom door to return to bed, I heard a radio in the unoccupied guest room to my left.
Unlike in the movies, I didn’t investigate. I just went back to bed. I told myself I was there to hunt deer, not ghosts. Hey, at least it made me sound like no one had me blustered.
When the alarm clock went off before dawn, I swung my legs out of bed as Clancy, my roommate, raced out the door, headed for the bathroom. When he returned a few minutes later, he said with a laugh, “That ol’ Bessie Hudson had me so spooked I was afraid to get out of bed last night! I was really suffering. I thought that alarm would never go off.”
Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad. Clancy fought in the infantry in Vietnam, and survived several hellish firefights. If he could admit to being scared by hunting camp ghost stories, I can too.