The Haunted Hospital: The First Night

Spending my first night inside of Old South Pittsburg Hospital

I am hunting ghosts again this weekend. And when I say, “this weekend,” I mean right now. I guess you could consider this a follow up to my previous post about the ghost hunt at Starling Magickal in New Orleans that I experienced; only this adventure is at Old South Pittsburg Hospital. South Pittsburg is a small town outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee – really small. Many paranormal investigators claim that this is the most haunted place that they have ever visited in the US. That claim does two things to me, it makes me say to myself, “whatever,” while simultaneously saying to my other Self, “lucky me.”

Night #1 at Old South Pittsburg Hospital

Once again, I am the guest of my boss, founder of Ghost City Tours and ghost whisperer, Tim Nealon. Honestly, I think he lives for this shit, which is cool, until the Unexplainables do stuff that can not be undone. (I have chosen to refer to these spirit pests as “Unexplainables,” and will use the proper pronoun from because I am hoping that they will appreciate my efforts of respect.)

We rolled up to the hospital early Friday evening. This part of the country is gorgeous, and even if you’re not interested in chasing ghosties, it’s totally worth exploring the Alabama/Georgia/Tennessee border. Scenic is the best word I can conjure to describe the 6.5 hour commute from New Orleans. The 50 year old abandoned hospital that we’re investigating and sleeping in… not so scenic.

One of the stuffed animals you'll find in Old South Pittsburg Hospital
Throughout the Hospital, you'll find stuffed animals left for the ghosts of chidlren

Her Appearance

OSPH is not what I had imagined, but it still meets all of my expectations. Its atrophied bones sit in the middle of a modest neighborhood, in a tiny town, off of a highway where she shamelessly displays her overgrown grass, falling down chain link fencing, boarded up windows, and a roof that looks as if it’s been weeping for many moons. The hospital wins in the category of Creep Factor, but beyond the expected spookiness, she also appears grief stricken. It’s as if she has been carrying the burden of everything and everyone that was a part of her living, and dying, years.

We pull up under her dilapidated carport where the ambulances would bring their emergencies years ago, and begin to unload the our gear and overnight bags. We’re staying in the hospital for two nights, and we are providing the ghost hunting equipment for all of our guests – we have a lot of stuff.

When Tim opens the door to the sad building, all I see is darkness. And as we walk through, shuffling along with our arms full, there’s more darkness. Every hallway, every room, every corner, everywhere I look there is darkness. I begin to wonder if the darkness is the sad building’s security blanket that she drags around for comfort and necessity.

We make it to what was once a nurse’s station and, like packing mules, we sigh with relief as we unload our burdens from our shoulders. It could not have been more than thirty seconds of being inside the building when my vertigo hit. I began to roll up on the ball of my right foot without any control of my balance or my body. My brain was sending lies to my eyes and my body didn’t know what to believe. The lump in my throat followed shortly after and I began to feel a kind of uneasiness that has the power to alter who I am. She was introducing herself to me. Enchanté.

And So It Begins…

Half an hour later, we were walking the cold dark halls with EVP recorders and fancy night vision handicams, with the intention of stirring up the energies and luring the Unexplainables to come out of the blackness. As we headed to the “clinic” on the 2nd floor, the air began to thicken. It felt like I was walking through cold soup as I entered the waiting room for the ailing. Once inside the space, that discomfort lifted, but not in a “good-now-I-can-exhale” kind of way, more like a “good-another-sucker-ignored-the-signs.”

The voices began without abandoned. The sinister ringleader with his “Tim. Fucker.,” who is apparently never too shy to tell us how he really feels, to the woman’s haunting whisper, “here,” and the laughter of curious children. Some of the voices sounded more menacing than others, but what they all had in common was the sound of desperation. I’m not sure what they were saying really mattered, it was their need to be heard that motivated their intentions.

My twenty minute private tutorial of Old South Pittsburg Hospital and Cliff Notes tour flew by. I learned about James, the pedophile and daughter molester who died while living in seclusion in the basement of the hospital, the doctor that had more casualties than cures, and Nelly, the elderly woman who spent her last few months of life alone in a room on the third floor. Perhaps they are the residents who keep the hospital in darkness, having become her security blanket, her family. Or maybe they are the reason for her heavy heart. I’m not sure that their current after death role is explainable, but I do know that I already had about 6 audio files on my voice recorder, as they were not at a loss for words. But now it was time to be gracious hosts and greet our guests who were coming to experience an evening in the “most haunted location” in an abandoned America.

I tag along with the excited visiting group to the proper introduction tour of the hospital. I have a Roland voice recorder and headphones as I bring up the rear through the dark corridors and lifeless rooms with leftover medical equipment, gurneys, and hospital beds. As we come around a corner, we head back into the cold soup, the clinic, and Tim begins to talk to the folks about what the room once was and the experiences that other visitors have had there. I am standing a few feet behind everyone when I felt something blowing through my hair and onto the back of my neck. Just as the chill bumps begin to break out all over my body and the lump in my throat doubles in sizes, I hear a man’s voice in my ear. It’s so disorienting that I can’t tell if I am hearing it through my headphones or if it’s in my head. The loudness of the voice and the presence invading my personal space sent me into a state of controlled panic.

I abruptly took the headphones off. My sudden movement caused Tim to stop speaking and the others to turn around and squint through the darkness to see what was happening behind them. I moved through the group and handed the recorder and headphones to Tim, “I don’t want these anymore. Something was behind me, it said something to me.” With a shiver and a wave of nausea, I moved back to my spot behind the group, but not too far behind.

Once the group had their tour assignments and ghost hunting gear, we turned them loose to explore the darkness and taunt the Unexplainables; we decided to do the same. But, before we went about our own investigation, we listened to that spot on the recorder that forced me to forfeit the fancy device. I was going to discover whether or not I was indeed hearing voices in my head or if those little buggers were coming through the voice recorder. “David. It’s Nealon.” That’s what the voice said. The name David has a personal meaning, very personal, and very few would be able to make sense of the reference. Nealon… well, that’s Tim’s last name. They were welcoming him back into their walls.

An early sketch of the C.S.S. Georgia, which was one of the first ironclads to be created during the Civil War
One of the wheelchairs in Old South Pittsburg Hospital. They sometimes moved by unseen forces

Phantom Cries, Real Tears

The guests were sent on their way. We began our night navigating down a hallway with the intention of visiting the nursery. I’m a few steps behind with a camera now. The small screen of the camera became my eyes, showing me where to place my feet and what to avoid walking into, like walls and random wheelchairs parked in the middle of the hallway. It was as if the next moment was choreographed. Just as I attempted to adjust my vision to the blackness and look ahead of the camera’s line of sight, it felt as if a gust of cold air was unleashed on my face and seconds later began “petting” my hair. I can’t presume to know what the intention was, but it felt desperate. The caressing wasn’t with force or with gentility, it felt more like, “please, feel my touch.”

I was sent into the nursery. The assignment was prefaced with, “women tend to get more activity in the nursery.” I found chair across from an old hospital baby crib and sat patiently, but patience wasn’t needed. It had only been about three minutes in that small room when a feeling of extreme grief came over me. I had no control of the sadness and despair that was flowing through me. I began to weep. Where were these tears coming from? Why was I weeping and feeling such woe?

I have no idea how long the tears streamed down my face, but I know that immediately following my sobs came the sound of a baby crying. The cries were audible. Could the cries be related to the grief I had been experiencing? Perhaps I was actually feeling the baby’s fear and pain. I remember saying:

"I feel so much sadness.

I don’t understand where this is coming from.

I don’t know why I feel so sad."

Then it happened again. A touch on the back of my head, a stroke of my hair, and rush of cold air on my face. I have no idea how much longer I stayed in the nursery. At no intention of my own, time became irrelevant.

The rest of the evening was spent gathering voices and sharing our immediate experiences. It seemed like every few minutes another voice was captured on our recorders. The sounds of the wraiths, their pleas, were never ignored, each one was met with intrigue and puzzlement. I guess I lasted about another hour or so. I was spent. My energy was zapped. It was getting to the point where I was unable to think straight to even construct a simple sentence. There was also something happening to my demeanor. I could feel myself beginning to shutdown and become introverted. I had a monkey mind full of nonsense, and I was unwilling to share or communicate anything that was chattering away in my brain. I needed to call it a night, a really really weird night.