Moment in Oddity - Fifty Degree Temperature Change in Just 2 Minutes
The Black Hills area of South Dakota can experience a wide range of temperature variations, especially in the winter months. One reason for this are the warm Chinook winds that blow in over the Black Hills. The occurrence is so common that Black Hills have been dubbed the “Banana Belt” of the Midwest. Inversions, which are warm air flowing over a shallow pool of cold air, cause temperature jumps as well since the Black Hills rise above the plains into a warm air layer. Even though these temperature changes are expected, no one expected what happened on January 22, 1943. Temperatures on that day rose and fell almost 50 degrees in a only two minutes. During that January, arctic air had blown down from the north and temperatures in the Dakotas were falling into the way below zero range. On the morning of the 22nd, temperatures in a Black Hills town named Spearfish were sitting at -4 degrees Fahrenheit. This was recorded at 7:32am. Two minutes later, the temperature was recorded as 45 degrees Fahrenheit, a rise in temperature of 49 degrees. The temperature rose a few more degrees over the next two hours and then plummeted from 54 degrees back to -4 degrees in 27 minutes. This change was so quick and drastic that car windshields froze over with thick frost and plate glass windows cracked. This was so weird that it received national media coverage and was featured in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” and “Strange as it Seems” cartoons in the newspapers. A drastic change in temperature in just two minutes, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - The Four Chaplains Heroic Act
In the month of February, on the 3rd, in 1943, a very heroic moment in history took place involving the SS Dorchester. During World War II, the SS Dorchester, a U.S. Army transport ship, was hit by a German torpedo just off the country of Greenland. Before the war, the Dorchester had been a luxury passenger liner built by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. It was launched in 1926 and featured electric fans and telephones in every room. She was refitted for the war in New York and made five successful crossings from New York City to Greenland. On February 3rd, she was only 100 miles from her destination when she was hit by the torpedo nearly an hour after midnight. She began to list immediately and it was clear she was going to sink. There were not enough life jackets on board. Four army chaplains, Catholic Father John P. Washington, Dutch Reformed Reverend Clark V. Poling, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode and Methodist Reverend George L. Fox, tried their best to keep the men calm as lifeboats were launched. The Four Chaplains gave up their life jackets to four frightened young soldiers. They had decided to go down with the ship and survivors reported seeing the Four Chaplains standing on the deck, arm-in-arm, praying together. They died along with the Captain and 667 other men making this the third worse loss of life at sea for the United States during the war.
We have been inside the Sorrel-Weed House twice and while we have never had a paranormal experience in the house, there is definitely an energy inside this house. The house has been through many changes in its 175+ years. After starting as an Antebellum mansion to a wealthy slave owner named Francis Sorrel, it served as a store that found the outside of the house completely changed, then it was apartments and finally is a museum today, in much need of renovation. The house was witness to tragedy and today is considered to be quite haunted and has been featured by both Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Join us as we take you through the history and hauntings of the Sorrel-Weed House!
Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia. The city is truly charming with its layout of park-like squares surrounded by Antebellum homes decorated in black wrought iron. One of those squares is Madison Square. The grand DeSoto Hotel once stood along the square and has now been replaced with the DeSoto Hilton. On the western edge of the square, there is the Green-Meldrim House, a Gothic Revival structure built in 1853, that serves as St. John's Episcopal Church's parish house and rectory. The Eliza Jewett House, built in 1842, stands across the square from the Sorrel-Weed House. As one can see, these squares just ooze history.
The land where the mansion stands today was once the location of a British barracks during the second bloodiest battle of the American Revolution. This was the Siege of Savannah in 1779. This was the most serious military confrontation in Georgia between the British and the Continental Army. The goal of the Americans was to liberate the city of Savannah from British occupation, which had lasted for a year. The American rebels and their French allies attacked on the night of October 8th. It started with a false attack to draw the attention of the British away from the real assault. The plan did not work. Miscommunication had one French line attacking before the rest were in place. The battle ended up in a ditch where a French flag and a South Carolina flag were planted. The Rebels probably thought this would indicate some kind of victory, but it would be anything but victory. The British, in response, cut down the attackers and their colors. Their counterattack lasted for an hour and left 80 of the American and French troops dead in the ditch. More than a thousand men lost their life in what was considered the bloodiest hour of the war. The rebels retreated in defeat. It was a great British victory.
Francis Sorrel was born to Antoine Francois Sorrel des Rivieres, a French military officer and sugar plantation owner, and Eugenie de Sutre, a free woman of color, in Haiti in 1793. At that time in history, Eugenie would have been referred to as mulatto, which was a term to distinguish between free people of color who had white fathers, versus black slaves. Francis was only six months old when his mother died. The Slave Rebellion was already well underway at this time and Antoine felt it was too dangerous and he left the island. He also left Francis. Eugenie's family would raise him and he would never see his father again. Francis did well for himself and was invited by Richard Henry Douglass to enter into a partnership. The Douglass-Sorrel firm opened an office in Savannah and Francis traveled there to run the business. Listeners may be asking themselves right now, how is it that Francis was able to do this since he was considered mulatto because his mother was mulatto? He hid the fact this his mother was a woman of color and he was fair skinned. He married Lucinda Moxley in 1822. She was the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner and he had eyes on the fortune she would inherit as the eldest daughter because as a woman, her inheritance would pass on to her husband.
The couple had three children together and after the third was born, Lucinda came down with yellow fever. She died from the disease in 1827, destroying Francis' dreams of a large inheritance. He was doing well on his own as he had started his own shipping business, but he still liked that Moxley money. So he did what any man with such a goal would do, he married his dead wife's younger sister, Matilda. Matilda and Francis had eight children together, one of who was Gilbert Moxley Sorrel. Gilbert went by the name Moxley to honor his mother and he became a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. He helped in the capture of Fort Pulaski. He commanded Sorrel's Brigade and took part in nearly every major Civil War battle, including Gettysburg. After the war he became an executive for the Ocean Steamship Company and took a place on the Georgia Historical Society board. He wrote a book, "Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer," about his experiences during the war, which has been consulted by many movie producers when making movies about the war because Moxley wrote about the personal side of many historical figures. The house has a later edition of the book that contains pictures and Diane got to look through it and found it interesting to see some of the personal comments Moxley made. Several of them were not very nice. Three of Francis and Matilda's children died before reaching adulthood. They raised their five other children and Lucinda's three children together.
The Sorrel-Weed House was designed and built by renowned Irish architect Charles B. Cluskey in 1841 for Francis Sorrel. Construction began in 1836 There are three distinct architectural styles represented by the house. The main one is Greek Revival with a Haitian style represented in the shuttered balcony found on part of the house and in the orange coloring of the mansion. French Regency styling is mostly seen inside the home. Cluskey hated adding the Haitian elements, but Sorrel insisted, so the architect put the balconies away from the front of the house where they would not interrupt his Greek Revival elements. These elements include a parapet with elliptical arches, Doric columns on the portico, a sweeping double entrance and balconies on the first story front windows. The front foyer has a common piece of architecture found in Savannah mansions and that is a division of space in the foyer done by two columns, to differentiate between guest space and private family space. The stairway across from the foyer is Regency in style and is a center stairway that ascends to a midfloor stoop that has stairways going off to the left and right to climb up to the second floor.
The most interesting room inside the mansion is an oval shaped dining room with curved wooden doors. The doors are very unique and took several weeks to make as they were formed using water rather than the typical technique of just hollowing out a tree and using the natural curve of the tree for the doors. We noticed that the interior of one of the doors did not have a handle and the reason for this is chilling in how it relates to slavery. With a home like the Sorrel's where there were more than a dozen slaves serving a family of mostly children, it would be very easy for the slaves to overpower the master. So slave masters would use some practices to instill fear in their slaves. One of these was making it forbidden for a slave to get caught in a room with no way out. A slave would have to enter the dining room through these doors and move fast enough to put down whatever he had on the table or make his way in and out of the butler closet before the doors he came through closed or he would be trapped as there was no door handle. He would then face a reprimand or beating for this infraction.
There were two rooms on the first floor with doors that separated them to serve as parlors for the men and women. The rooms would be opened to each other when large dinner parties were hosted. The slaves would have to move the heavy furniture up and down the stairs to open up the rooms and to bring tables into the rooms. The basement is large and open and was where multiple kitchens were located. There are four fireplaces down here. One of the kitchens was specifically for the slaves and where there food was prepared. Any interesting fun fact about slave food is that it is what we considered typical southern comfort food today like black-eyed peas, collard greens, fried okra, etc. After the Civil War, rich southern families had lost nearly everything and they could no longer afford their expensive upper crust food anymore and the slave food that was served downstairs to the slaves, came upstairs to the rich dining rooms and eventually became the mainstay food of the south. So next time you eat some good southern vittles, keep in mind that this was once considered slave food.
One of the rooms in the basement would eventually serve as a doctor's office for Francis Sorrel, Jr. and he would work on wounded soldiers during the Civil War here. That means multiple amputations took place in this room. This is a room made famous by legends of it being used as a room for conducting Voodoo. The first time we saw it was on a ghost tour we took several years ago. There was a night vision camera hooked up in it and a couple of people on the tour were invited to enter and dance around. There were some weird lights and orbs, but these easily could have been dust and bugs. The girl that was in there did say that she needed to get out after about five minutes because she suddenly did not feel well. We didn't tempt the spirits. On Diane's recent visit, this room was wide open and decorated like an office with a medical table and instruments. It felt like any other room to her. A dumbwaiter had been used to transport food from the kitchen upstairs to an area right outside the dining room, but it no longer exists.
Another room that is on the first floor is what was probably Frances Sorrell's office. There are large windows around this room that lead out to the Haitian balconies. As many of you know, there was a time in history where houses were taxed according to the number of doors. Frances beat paying taxes on his "doors" leading to the balcony by making them windows. They stretch nearly to the floor and there is a hidden pocket in the wall where the one set of windows push up into making it easy for even a man to go out on the balcony without bending down. Diane got to test it out and went out on the balcony to get a closer look at the orange paint on the outside of the house. When it was originally restored, the Historic Savannah Foundation did not want the owner at that time to use the color. They claimed that it was not a historic color in Savannah. They apparently forgot the Haitian influence style of the house. When the city said no, the owner scraped off twenty layers of paint and found the original paint, which was, indeed, orange. The color stayed. We've never been to the second floor where the bedrooms are located, so we can't tell you what those look like.
There is a carriage house next to the house and it was in the upper area where the slaves were housed. Up to fifteen of them shared a large open area with a small kitchen and fireplace. This would have been very crowded. Diane asked about the smell of horses coming from the downstairs area where the carriages were stored and that is when she learned that horses were kept in stables outside of town. There was a separate room off the large room that had its own furnishings and a door and this was Molly's room since she was considered a level above the slaves. She was a type of middle management and had been given this position because of how well she cared for the Sorrel children as a nanny. There is no official record of Molly, but the legend around her claims that she was mulatto. Many of the slaves in the Sorrel household were listed as mulatto and it is generally understood that Francis had no problem helping himself to the bodies of his female slaves and it is thought that he fathered a few children with them.
The area below the carriage house was recently excavated and Diane's guide had taken part in that work. They believe a large wine cellar had once been in this area that stretches the length of the carriage house. They found a case down there with several brandy bottles inside of it and something quite remarkable and surprising was inside the case as well. A letter from Robert E. Lee was found. The guide said that General Lee had visited the home a few times, but they are not sure how this had ended up in the case or why. Next to the Sorrel-Weed House is a large house that once served as the guest house for the Sorrel's. It is now a private residence, but the family had lived there for a time when their finances took a nose dive. Two original mirrors that now hang in the parlors were found over in this guest house and they are two of the only original furnishings left from the Sorrel household. The Sorrel-Weed House was designated a state landmark in 1953, the first house in Georgia to be so honored. Day tours are 60 minutes and cost $10, starting at 10am and running to 5pm. Evening ghost tours are offered as well. Go to the carriage house to get tickets.
Matilda Sorrel was not a happy woman. She was given to bouts of depression and one can imagine that her relationship with Francis was not necessarily based on love, but rather, position in society. The women's parlor, where she spent much of her time reading, has windows that look out on the carriage house. The legend that surrounds the house claims that one day, Matilda looked out those windows and could see into the room that was Molly's and she saw a vision that shocked her to her core and fed her depression. Francis was having sex with Molly. The distraught Matilda, climbed the stairs to the third floor of the guest house next door and threw herself out of a window, head first, onto the brick patio below. There is no proof that this is what caused Matilda to take her life. It could have been mental illness or perhaps she even discovered the truth about Francis being a man not of pure white ancestry. Whatever the case, Matilda did indeed kill herself on the property. A family friend wrote his mother of the event, "The sad news has reached the office that Mrs. Sorrel, probably in a fit of lunacy, sprang from the second or third story window of her residence on Harris Street, next door to the house which was the family mansion for many years, falling upon the pavement of the yard, and by the concussion terminating her life." This happened in 1860. There are claims that Matilda made this jump from the mansion itself. This is difficult to ascertain. Francis did sell his mansion in 1859 to a man named Henry Weed, but there are claims that Francis was in the mansion in 1862 when Robert E. Lee visited.
The tragedy went further when it came to Molly. Shortly after Matilda's death, Molly was found hanged in her room in the carriage house. There is no clear indication as to whether she committed suicide or was murdered. There is also no clear indication in historical fact that Molly existed or that a slave killed herself on the property. The house remained in the Weed family until 1914. A.J. Cohen Sr. bought the 15,000 square-foot mansion from the Savannah Bank & Trust Co. in 1941. His son, A.J. Cohen Jr., built a one-story brick building around the Bull Street side about five years later that reached out all the way to the street. He did this to create a store front and opened the first of three Lady Jane clothing shops. Cohen also knocked out most of the walls in the basement where the store was located. And yes, many of these walls were load bearing and now the house is held up by steel girders placed in the ceiling of the basement.
In the 1960s, Cohen Jr. moved into the house with his family and continued to run the apparel business. The store started to do poorly in the 1980s and finally closed in 1991. The Cohens put the house on the market. Stephen C. Bader bought the house in 1996 and worked at renovating it for some time, but there was a lot of controversy surrounding his ownership. He had several workplace violations and scores of unpaid bills. His contractor and architect finally quit. A few of the positive things that he did were dismantling the storefront the Cohens built and he is the one who took the house back to its original orange color, which he toned down after pressure from the city. Bader spent four years burning through money and workers before his tenure with the house ended. After that, we're not sure how ownership went, but Diane was told that there had been apartments here, so we imagine that was after Bader. The current owner seems to be the group that runs the tours now, but we don't know their official name. The website is http://sorrelweedhouse.com.
There are several spirits haunting the Sorrel-Weed House and many claim that it is one of the most haunted houses in Savannah. Ghost Hunters was here in 2005 and Ghost Adventures visited in 2015. Both shows claimed to catch EVPs. The Ghost Hunters think they got the cries of a slave on an EVP. The EVP seemed to say, "Help! Oh Francis, help! Oh my God! Oh my God!" Zac Bagans said of his time in the house, "Our investigation of the Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, Georgia, gave me a three-alarm hangover. It was very similar to a real one—headache, nausea, dizziness, throbbing, memory loss—but weirder. I can usually gauge how bad my hangover is going to be by the interactions I have with spirits during a lockdown, but this one threw me for a loop."
Diane asked her guide if he had experienced anything unexplained and he said he had never noticed anything he would consider to be a haunting. He has been alone in it at night and heard noises, but he always assumes that it is just the noises of a very old home. But others have definitely experienced weird activity. One of the people who lived in an apartment basement was named Steve and he was there for three months. He felt very uneasy in what was later called the Voodoo Room. He moved upstairs and claimed to hear the sound of parties and other social gatherings coming from downstairs when clearly there was no one down there. When he would go downstairs to investigate, the sound of music, laughing and talking would stop.
The scent of residual cigar smoke has been smelled by guests touring then men's parlor. Residual noises from the Revolutionary War are heard inside and outside the house. Some interesting finds during excavations were bullets from both wars. Diane got to see these bullets and how very different the bullets were from the wars. It is thought that the Revolutionary War bullets were possibly from bodies that had been buried where the house now stands, setting it up for future hauntings. Shadow figures are seen regularly and people claim to have been groped, poked and to have stabbing pains.
People who have toured or investigated the house claim to feel nauseous or a choking sensation when they are in the basement. A person named Jamie Stewart said, "I visited this house recently as a skeptic. When I entered the home I felt Ill. Our tour guide wasn’t great and didn’t really tell us what had happened there until we got to courtyard. But yet I felt extremely ill and nearly vomited in courtyard when we got out of basement. It’s not that I didn’t believe in ghosts but I was indifferent. This incident has left me to do research on it as I was freaked out by my reaction and the fact that I felt fine after I left the house."
Camera and cell phone batteries are known to be completely drained while in the house. David Duran wrote an article for Country Living about his experiences in Savannah and one segment was about a ghost tour he took at the Sorrel-Weed House. He got an interesting picture in a mirror that seems to feature a person who was not part of their group who has hair and clothing from another time period. Here is that photo:
|Photo by David Duran|
|Photo by Leslie|