Ghosts of Mississippi: Exploring the Magnolia State
Many communities have their share of ghost stories, most of which are fueled by active imaginations and are not for the faint of heart. These stories are best told on a chilly night around a campfire, so bundle up and get cozy. This journey takes us through one of the most haunted areas of the country—rural southern Mississippi, in October no less—in search of the paranormal.
The southernmost point on the Natchez Trace Parkway is Natchez, MS, one of the oldest settlements in the Magnolia State. Natchez is known for its rich Southern history and has one of the nation’s most impressive collections of 19th-century antebellum homes, a testament to its pre–Civil War wealth. Since the summer heat has not yet begun to fade, despite it being fall, Caleb and I get an early start. We’re traveling on Indian FTR 1200 S’s equipped with the touring package featuring windshields and a small amount of luggage. Following backroads southeast out of Natchez, we wind our way through fertile farmland and then turn north toward Port Gibson.
A Ghost Town
Rodney Road is a finely paved stretch that snakes westward from Port Gibson. The curves along this road are unlike most of the highways that run through Mississippi, giving us a perfect place to see how the Indians handle. After several miles, we arrive at the Windsor Ruins. The Windsor Plantation was completed in 1861 and for 30 years was the largest home in Mississippi, sitting on a 2,600-acre cotton plantation. During the Civil War, the first floor served as a makeshift hospital, which saved the lives of many Union and Confederate soldiers. Today, all that stands are 23 of the original 29 columns; a fire in 1890 destroyed most of the home. The site is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is claimed to be haunted by the souls of the soldiers who died there. When we visit, the columns rise toward the sky, seemingly wise and full of untold stories, but we don’t see any ghosts.
We soon find ourselves riding down a road that seems to have disappeared over the years. We put the FTRs into track mode, which turns off the ABS and traction control and unleashes the true flat track racing heritage of these bikes. They respond as if the dirt is where they are meant to be. Before we know it, we are in Rodney, an abandoned town in Jefferson County, about an hour’s ride northeast of Natchez. This area is believed to be one of the early crossing points for the Spanish colonial trade route El Camino Real.
Many things contributed to the town of Rodney’s demise, but when the Mississippi River changed course, Rodney’s population dropped to nearly zero. There are only a few structures still standing today, one of which is the Presbyterian church. Located on the bluff behind the church is the town’s cemetery, overgrown and abandoned. It is said that on a dark night you can feel, and sometimes see, spirits of Rodney’s early settlers roaming the graveyard and church grounds. The low clouds sprinkle us with rain as we explore the forgotten town, not a soul in sight.
Visiting The Undead
We ride into Brookhaven just as the sun is setting. Brookhaven was founded in what was formerly Choctaw Indian territory, and the settlement served as a trading post between European settlers and the Choctaw. The town grew even more after the railroad came through in 1858, forming a midway stopping point for travelers between New Orleans and Memphis. Brookhaven is a perfect place to take a break during this tour as well, and its delicate balance of Southern charm and modern amenities make us feel right at home.
Hungry after the day’s ride, we visit Magnolia Blues BBQ for dinner. Carl, the owner, who started the restaurant in 2013, has perfected the art of smoking meats. We try the pulled pork nachos and crispy brisket tacos, both of which are some of the best we’ve ever had. We indulge far more than we should before turning in for the evening at The Inn on Whitworth.
The next morning, we head for a historic graveyard, the final resting place for more than 5,000 people, including 22 Civil War soldiers. Rose Hill Cemetery is likely the best place in the area for any supernatural encounters, and it happens to be on our route. Perched on a hill next to Brookhaven High School, the cemetery dates back to the mid-1800s. Over the years there have been numerous reports of apparitions seen roaming the burial ground. We turn in, find a quiet place to park, and begin to examine the graves. The headstones sit quietly on the ground, stained and cracked from years of weather. On a morning as gloomy as this, you can’t help but feel as if you aren’t alone here.