Ghosts at the Historic Rawls Hotel
|Meet The Ghosts|
Unusual occurrences are not uncommon in the historic Rawls hotel. Children’s laughter has been heard by those working on the third floor, and even outside the bathroom down in the restaurant – when there have been no children around.
Hayden Pursley spent three years restoring the historic hotel and had several stories he often told – to include seeing a girl around the age of 12 running down the halls. One of the many incidents he shared was when he hung some window treatments in the ballroom.
Hayden said he would put it up one day and it would be down the next.
This happened twice. On the third morning when Hayden went to hang it again, a board came across the room and hit him. No one else was in the room, and Hayden figured Mr. Rawls didn’t like what he had chosen.
In October 2002, local reporter Carole Brand spent an evening in the Rawls. Below is an account of her experience.
In search of spirits at historic Rawls Hotel
By Carole Brand
Sun Staff Writer
Shortly after World War I, tales began to emerge of strange, unexplained events that happened at the Rawls Hotel. When told by a few Enterprise residents with seemingly frightened faces, the tales were scoffed at by others and left to disappear among the gossip of older men and women through the years.
From time to time, that tales were retold with whispering voices in corners of a beauty salon or in a quiet out-of-the-way table at the local diner. Some of the stories were without any kid of explanation; others were left up to the imagination. These ghostly tales, however, passed on from one generation to another.
As a reporter, I found these tales interesting and thought some to be beyond belief. I never was one to search for the paranormal. That was something I’d rather leave alone. But with the onset of paranormal research in the late 1970s and the reoccurrence of strange and unexplained events, researchers said they have found ways to “observe” the ghosts.
As a reporter, I felt an obligation to research and explore the possibilities of what may lie beyond caught up in the shadows of the night.
Research says that orbs, usually floating light circles, can be seen by detailed special light cameras, but even orbs have shown up better in Polaroid’s. Smells and temperatures can be measured by delicate instruments, but mostly humans who come in contact with the “spirit world” often smell odors and feel the air temperatures drop.
Paranormal researchers say when “ghosts” are present they are usually invisible, but may make themselves known to capture the attention of the living. The instruments can back up any questions skeptics may have, experts say, but a lot of questions continue to go unanswered. With a check of my instruments and camera, I go forward in search of ghosts.
Enter Rawls Hotel: 8:10 p.m. – My search begins
I began my search of the ghosts of Enterprise at the Rawls Hotel. I had no interest in really searching for them for fear they might find me. It was with little prior knowledge of ghosts hunting that I went into the Rawls late one evening. I didn’t expect what I experienced there; neither did I expect to hear such ghostly tales coming from within those walls by former employees.
Most of the people I spoke with declined to be identified. Some have spoken only once about their experiences and say they will never speak of them again.
I rechecked my Polaroid camera to make sure everything was working right and checked my “ghost meter,” a temperature gauge I brought with me, just in case.
Rawls History Lesson: 8:52 p.m.
Visitors that come to the Rawls Hotel say they feel strange spirits in the building that was constructed in 1903. First, the hotel was a two-story structure with a straight rectangle with a hall down the middle. The third story and the two wings were added during a 1928 remodeling.
The Rawls, a magnificent work of Spanish-style architecture, has a grand ballroom, a restaurant area, a bed and breakfast, and a wine cellar/basement. In the cellar, waitresses have reported seeing Captain Japheth Rawls, the original owner, who came to the Enterprise area in 1898. He and his family were among the first passengers of the first train that ran to Enterprise.
In 1903, Rawls decided to build the hotel where he and his wife frequently stayed and dined.
It was in this same year that Enterprise acquired a railroad depot directly across from the Rawls. Some travelers spent many wonderful and entertaining days at the newly built Rawls Hotel. Some may even have decided never to leave, even in death.
Exploring Wine Cellar: 10:02 p.m.
Children’s voices have been heard in the basement of the Rawls and as an investigative reporter that was the first place I felt we should explore. As a fellow employee and I, along with some hotel workers, toured the relatively dark wine cellar, my friend said she felt the presence of three children and saw them dressed in early 1920s clothes. I ran a quick temperature reading of 35 degrees. It was much colder in the basement than outside, especially in one dark corner. Suddenly, I felt the presence of an older gentleman, complete with graying hair, a thick mustache and wearing a pair of light-colored handyman overalls. I couldn’t really see him physically, but my mind somehow showed me he was there, even down to his black shoes.
Somehow their presence didn’t frighten us to the point of knocking each other over to head upstairs. It was a calm feeling, a feeling of welcome and happiness, at least for the children. We eased up the stairs quietly as if leaving them to play, guarded by the older gentleman. Temperature reading on stairs: 55 degrees.
It was much later in an interview that I found out one employee said he saw the deceased Capt. Rawls in the cellar, as if he was working on pipes in the hotel. The man said he had seen Capt. Rawls dressed in overalls. The same gentleman said he had also seen, late one night, the faint shadow of a young boy walking up the stairs.
Kitchen Area: 10:45 p.m.
Exiting from the cellar and into the large kitchen area of the Rawls, I met some workers who say that there’s a mischievous ghost who dwells there.
“Sometimes you will lay down a kitchen instrument and turn around and then it will be gone,” said one employee. “Other times you will hear a pan drop when you know you’ve put it back in place. You just never know about this spirit.”
Near Entrance to Grand Ballroom: Interviews 11:15 p.m.
The grand ballroom of the Rawls serves as a meeting, dining and conference area today, but when the ballroom was built in the ‘20s, it was the highlight of the evening to see elegant ladies and couples dance by music played on a grand piano in one corner.
A Rawls employee said she was working late one night and heard the sound of a piano playing in the grand ballroom. She knew no one was in the building at the time and certainly there was no piano in the ballroom. As she cautiously approached the entrance doors listening to the sound, the music suddenly stopped. As she began to walk away, the sounds of the piano started once again. She said she quickly went into her office and locked the door.
Footsteps and the sound of feet running on the third floor have been reported to the local police by restaurant employees. When police arrive and search the floor, no one can be found.
Another respected gentleman said he had heard strange sounds at night on the second and third floors.
“I know we have re-runs of shows, but I don’t think Mr. Ed has been on and that’s what it sounded like. I even heard the Captain Kangaroo TV show one time and I know that show hasn’t been on in forever, even in re-runs.”
One visitor to the bed and breakfast at the Rawls said she felt the spirits as soon as she entered the hotel.
The couple visiting from Florida had never been at the Rawls before. The woman said she wasn’t frightened or scared because she had grown up in an old house that had spirits and she was used to dealing with them.
“They are where they choose to be at the moment and it’s as if they feel comfortable here,” the lady said. “Well, maybe some of them do and maybe some of them are just displaced souls.”
Entering Grand Ballroom: 12:21 p.m.
Statistics show that most haunted places in the South are old home places or hotels where the ghosts experienced either the happiest moments or the saddest moments while living.
I don’t know what the ghosts or spirits were feeling in the ballroom when we entered, but as I tried to open the door that led into the ballroom from the kitchen, I felt the door become heavy. I couldn’t seem to open it, although it was a swinging door. The group behind me laughed, thinking I was doing it on purpose, but I know I wasn’t. Finally, the door eased way into a small hall area that led into the main ballroom area.
As I entered I said nothing about how I was feeling at the moment. Somehow my breath became short and a heavy feeling surrounded me. I couldn’t seem to breathe. I reached into my camera bag to grab my camera and the temperature gauge, but the air that had been comfortable now was suffocating. My heart seemed to be pounding out of my chest and any energy I had seemed to leave me. I reached down in my camera bag again to try to find my Polaroid and the temperature gauge. I couldn’t find either one. They had just been in my bag several minutes ago.
The others behind me then entered the room through the door. I couldn’t shake the heavy feeling I had and worse, I couldn’t even describe it. I was now taking short breaths at a time.
As I turned, still not saying a word, I saw my fellow employee behind me catching her breath. She was a color close to solid white.
As she glanced at me with her hand on her chest. I sensed she felt the same way I did. Drained of energy, we both looked at each other. She said my face was white. I knew it was even though I was sweating, which should have turned my face into blood red.
In the ballroom we sat down in chairs to get our composure, comparing notes on just what had happened. It was if something in the hallway had drained us. It seemed whatever it was had tried to grab and steal any energy we had. Something even felt like it was draining us out of any life left.
Staring in disbelief were two Rawls employees. One even began to have a slight smile and nodded her head.
“This has happened to several people who came into the ballroom this way,” she said as if we had been selected to be her confirmation of the strange event.
“I told a couple of people about his and they didn’t believe me, so I just kept quiet. I’m finally glad some newspaper people experienced this for themselves.”
I wasn’t so glad. I had an experience I couldn’t explain. Lots of experiences I knew I could explain, but not one of the creepy kind. I looked down at my camera bag. My temperature gauge was lying on top of my bag within simple reach. My Polaroid was beneath it. I took the gauge for one last time and walked toward the corner of the room. The temperature was a steady 60 degrees. I snapped off a few shots from the camera, but nothing showed.
At least not yet.
After several, long minutes had passed, and we were seemingly sane again, I looked at my fellow “spirit” adventurer. It was late and we were both ready to get the heck out of there. As we left the Rawls and exited from the rear entrance toward the railroad depot, I glanced up at one of the windows from the grand ballroom. A figure, faint but recognizable as a younger woman dressed in white, was looking through the window. I stopped suddenly to look at her and then she disappeared.
Needless to say, my night of sleep was interrupted over and over again by the unexplainable things I had seen and experienced that night.
As the hotel celebrates its centennial birthday in 2003, the ghosts and spirits may linger to roam the Rawls, the way they’ve done in more than a hundred years.
Maybe residents in Enterprise will soon be whispering tales, the ones only few know to be true.