I didn’t really want to move to Clanton, Ala., but I didn’t have much choice at the time. After being in business for myself for five years, my company had failed and I had lost all the investment capital available to me. Then a newspaper chain offered me a job. I was recruited to be a publisher, but I would first spend three years as general manager of their newspaper in Clanton learning their operating methods.
I had no idea that it would lead to the scariest experience of my life and force me to re-examine my beliefs about things that go bump in the night. The story is one that I’ve told to very few people until now, because people think you’re either crazy or lying when you tell them something that can’t be explained.
Clanton is a small town of about 7,000 people on I-65 about halfway between Birmingham and Montgomery. I didn’t care for living in a place that small, but I was happy to have income. My then-wife, Melissa, and I started looking for a place to live.
It was difficult to find houses to rent there — and the ones that were available were expensive — so we were very happy to find a modern four-bedroom house priced at about half the monthly rent that everything else was. It was way too big for two people and one cat, but it seemed like a bargain and it was close to my office.
When we looked at the house, the basement was partially finished. It had originally just been a large open area with a concrete floor, but some rooms down there were in the process of having studs and sheetrock put up. It looked odd because tools and construction materials — including dried trays of that mud-like substance used when hanging Sheetrock — had been left there with the work halfway done.
The woman showing us the house (the owner’s sister) told us that the last renters had been living there on a lease-purchase plan and they were planning to buy, so they were improving the basement in this way. She said that the other tenants suddenly moved out and wouldn’t say why. We thought it was odd, but we assumed it must be because of their own personal problems.
After we moved in, some neighbors came over from across the street to meet us and welcome us to the neighborhood. The doorbell rang late one afternoon and we went to the door. Oddly, the couple weren’t standing on the porch, but had rung the doorbell and moved back down to the ground away from the porch, leaving some gift of food — a cake or cookies — on the bannister of the porch. We went outside and invited them in. They were adamant that they didn’t want to come into the house — and they never came closer — but they were friendly. We thought they were a little strange, but we didn’t think anything else about it.
I started experiencing weird little things. Unknown to me, Melissa was experiencing them, too, but we weren’t talking about them at first. In our first week in the house, we experienced strange, unexplained noises in the house at night. We were scared, but we just wrote it off as a strange house settling. (I even wrote a funny column for the newspaper about how scared we were, but we weren’t taking it seriously.)
One day, I was down in the basement one day (where the washer and dryer were) and I saw — clear as day — the words “LEAVE” written on the concrete basement wall. I’m certain about what I saw and I felt certain that it was a message from something that wanted me out of the house. But a moment later, it turned into “LEANNE” in a child’s writing. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, so I didn’t tell Melissa. (I would later find out that she had had the same experience, but she hadn’t wanted to tell me.)
Little things kept seeming odd about the house, but not enough to worry about. Water constantly ran in pipes where no water was running anywhere. When a friend drove down from Tuscaloosa to spend the night, something unknown cut a perfectly circular hole (about 10 or 12 inches in diameter) in the blanket she used while sleeping on a sofa. All that was left of the missing part of the blanket was some fine material sort of like sand. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t duplicate the process. And I certainly couldn’t explain the perfectly round hole. Our friend felt other odd things that night. She left vowing not to return to the house.
After we had been there for a six months or so, our 4-year-old cat, Oliver, suddenly died of advanced cancer. He was perfectly healthy when we moved there, but he suddenly got sick and died during surgery. The vet back in Birmingham said his organs were completely covered with cancer and he couldn’t understand how the cancer could have developed and taken over that quickly.
I had felt an odd sensation of oppression in the house almost from the beginning, but I had ignored it, because I didn’t believe in that sort of weirdness. But at about the same time as Oliver’s death, the feeling of oppression in the house started getting stronger. I still wasn’t talking to Melissa about what I felt, because it seemed silly and I didn’t want to scare her with my odd thoughts.
Then one night while we were eating dinner, we both started feeling an overwhelming feeling of an evil presence, unlike anything I’d ever felt. I can’t explain it, but it was very real. This time, we talked about it.
Melissa and I were both so terrified by it that we left the food on the table where it was sitting and we grabbed enough clothes for the night (along with the new kitten we’d gotten) and went to a motel. We were so terrified that we weren’t worried about what anyone might think. All we knew is that we had to get out of that house. Something wanted us out of that house. It felt evil and it felt threatening.
We discovered that the house felt safe during the day, but something happened precisely at sunset. Starting then, the house felt full of evil presences. We stayed in the motel for several weeks. In the meantime, we were looking for other places to live, but we didn’t tell anyone, because we didn’t want people to think we were crazy.
Melissa started doing some research on the area at the local historical society. The house was right next to a small, old church and cemetery. She found out from the old records that there had been an old burial ground for Native Americans right next to this cemetery when it was started in the early 19th century, but it was unclear exactly where it was. It had just disappeared over the years and the settlers had build on top of it, presumably. Could our house be located on that burial ground? It sounded like a bad horror movie script.
I don’t remember exactly when this part of the story took place, but one day when I was heading home for lunch, I saw smoke rising in the distance. My first thought was that it was our house, because I had had an irrational fear of this house burning (which I’ve never experienced before). But the fire turned out to be at a house across the street.
It was the house of the neighbors who had met us when we first moved in, but who wouldn’t come into the house. The place was burning to the ground and firefighters were there working on it. I went over to take pictures for the paper, and they told me that it was an intentional burn. The people who lived there had suddenly moved out and given the house to the fire department to burn — as a training exercise — on the condition that nothing was removed from the house. It had to be burned with furniture, appliances and everything left in it.
So the fire department had set it on fire and was then using certain parts of the burn to teach firefighters how to deal with certain aspects of fires. Then it was allowed to burn completely to the ground and the rubble was left exactly where it was. The rubble was still undisturbed when we moved.
We continued to live in the motel while we tried to find a place to move, but we would go to the house during the day, because it felt safe then. But the moment sunset got there, something happened in ways I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t experienced it myself.
One Saturday afternoon we were there washing some clothes and taking care of some other things and it was getting very close to when we knew we needed to be out. The house was long and I was at one end (in the bedroom) and Melissa was at the other end (in the kitchen) when twilight suddenly got there as we were trying to gather up everything to leave.
I don’t know how to explain what happened next. I felt the house sort of “tilt” in a weird way — like a physical thing — and the spirits were back in the most powerful way I’d felt them.
At that point, I distinctly heard a horse running down the hall.
I was terrified and I ran back toward the other end of the house to find Melissa. She met me about halfway coming from the other direction and she looked scared.
“Did you feel that,” she asked me.
She had also heard the horse in addition to feeling something evil right after the house “moved.” We got our stuff and ran out.
After a few weeks in the motel, it was getting ridiculously expensive and we were feeling crazy to be run out of our house. I’m a little bit fuzzy about exactly how this came about, but one afternoon, we had something of a “spiritual showdown” with whatever was in the house.
We were scared, but we couldn’t afford to keep living in a motel. We were also angry at this point. We knew what we were experiencing was real, but we couldn’t talk to anyone about it and we felt angry about being run out of a place we were paying rent for.
That Saturday afternoon, we ended up praying and then talking to those spirits or entities. We told them that we were going to have to live in the house and that they weren’t to bother us. We told them that we meant them no harm and that we’ll leave when we could. It was a very intense experience, but it feels silly to talk about it, because nothing else in my life prepared me to believe in it.
After that afternoon, we started staying there at night again. We didn’t feel safe, but whatever was there was holding back. It felt like an uneasy sort of truce. Within a few days, the company I was working for promoted me to publisher of a newspaper somewhere else, so we moved within another few weeks. My three-year training program had turned into just nine months there.
After we moved out of the house, I told Melissa that I had had a constant fear of coming home and finding the house burned to the ground. She looked at me oddly and said that she had had the same fear the whole time we were there. Every time we were gone, she had had a fear that we would come home and find it burned to the ground. We nicknamed the house “Hill House,” after the haunted house in a scary movie from 1963 called “The Haunting of Hill House.”
That was the end of the story for a long time.
About five years ago, I took a girlfriend to Clanton one night to show her the newspaper where I used to work. I also told her the story of the house and I drove over to show her the house.
When we got there, though, the house was completely gone. It was as though no house had ever been there. All that was left was the concrete of the driveway leading to where the garage had been and the walkway that had led to the front porch. Nothing else was there. I’ve marked the empty lot with a red X in the satellite imagery above from Google maps. Since it had been a nice, large, modern house, there’s no way it should have been torn down. On the map, you can also see the edge of the cemetery just to the north. The place where a house across the street was torn down appears to be a plowed field on this image.
I have no idea what happened to the house. I don’t have any opinion about exactly what was there, because I just don’t know enough to say. In a strange way, though, I was glad the house was gone.
It felt as though the spirits — or whatever had lived there — had finally reclaimed the land as their own.