John G. Browning 2015-09-30 02:47:23
Summons From the Grave Courthouses across the U.S. claim visits from ghosts of the long gone. With Halloween approaching, perhaps we should add courthouses to the pantheon of traditional scary places— and not because they induce bad memories for those who didn’t prevail in their quest for justice. Many courthouses are genuinely spooky—some might even say “haunted”—places. In a scene straight out of a horror movie, a 2015 trial at the Sevier County Courthouse in De Queen, Arkansas, was disrupted when about 30 bats flew into the courtroom. Although the ensuing “disorder in the court” subsided when the lights were turned off and the trial was relocated, it doesn’t bode well that, according to the county’s chief administrative officer, “hundreds” of bats roost in a courthouse elevator shaft.1 And last Halloween, in St. George, Utah, dozens of Brazilian free-tailed bats had to be removed from courtrooms, stairwells, hallways, and ceilings at the 5th District Courthouse.2 While bat infestations are creepy enough, there are courthouses throughout the country that some people swear are inhabited not just by lawyers and judges but also by ghosts. You could practically do a haunted courthouses tour in Arkansas. In 2009, workers at the Desha County Courthouse in Arkansas City, including former County Judge Mark McElroy (now a state representative), reported “spiritual activity” by a ghost they nicknamed Willard, as well as sounds of crying and moving lights. Local legend alleges that it all began when the clock tower ceased functioning properly because of a curse by a condemned man who was hanged on the courthouse lawn at the turn of the 20th century.3 Here in Texas, the Grimes County Courthouse in Anderson has been the site of unexplained paranormal activity. In 2008, now-retired Grimes County Judge Betty Shiflett and Court Administrator Larry McGinnis told reporters about unexplained door-slamming, strange noises, and shadows in the Victorian building.5 Some locals speculate that a Clyde Barrow gang member, whose trial was held at the courthouse, put a curse on the building. New Jersey also has its share of haunted courthouses. Workers at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth claim sightings of a ghostly figure in the corridors and at a nearby cemetery that are said to be the spirit of Hannah Ogden Caldwell, a minister’s wife whose murder during the Revolutionary War was never solved. The Syfy channel show Ghost Hunters even devoted an episode to it.6 And at the Gloucester County Courthouse in Woodbury, construction workers, employees, and elected officials reported strange noises and lights when old jail cells were being removed for a renovation project. One cell had housed an inmate who committed suicide in the 1980s, and some theorized that this convict’s restless spirit was behind the spooky happenings. Although family members of the deceased inmate held an exorcism at the courthouse in 2014, noises continue to be reported.7 Several other states apparently play host to a few courthouse ghosts of their own. In Wooster, Ohio, Wayne County Courthouse employees claim to have captured spectral images of their resident ghost. Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Wiest told the local media that he wasn’t worried, but if he ever did have a ghostly encounter, he’d “run like hell” because he’s “not taking any chances.”8 And in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Cumberland County commissioners granted permission to the producers of Ghost Hunters to film at the 18th-century courthouse after employees reported hearing noises, including mysterious door-slamming.9 The spirits of the Old Southwest have apparently lingered at courthouses in Arizona and New Mexico. A rumored ghostly inhabitant of the courthouse in Holbrook, Arizona, is a prostitute who died inside one of the jail cells.10 Navajo County employees and visitors claim to have seen the mournful, fleeting image of a woman looking out of the courthouse windows. And in Corrales, New Mexico, what was once a private residence during the 1860s later became Sandoval County’s first courthouse and is now a private home once again—albeit one that supposedly comes with a spirit. Perea Casa, as it is known, is allegedly occupied by the ghost of a bald man with a handlebar mustache. A former judge, perhaps, or an unhappy defendant? The specter’s identity remains a mystery.11 Courthouses across the United States are sites rich in what so-called ghost hunters would call negative energy, having borne mute witness to emotionally charged cases, along with sanctioned executions. In an age in which many historic courthouses no longer fulfill their original function—having been forsaken for bigger, more modern buildings—these stories of haunted courthouses with shadowy figures, unexplained noises, and objects that inexplicably move serve as reminders of our country’s fascinating history. Notes 1) Bats Cause Mayhem, Send People Screaming From Arkansas Court, Associated Press, Jan. 30, 2015, http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/offbeat/bats-cause-mayhem-send-people-screaming-from-arkansas-court/ar-AA8MhWa. 2) Dozens of Bats Invade Utah Courthouse, Associated Press, Nov. 1, 2014, http://www.bigstory.ap.org/article/46019253096545bf8e9db79f882215a6/dozens-bats-invade-utah-courthouse. 3) Mike Linn, Case of the Courthouse Curse, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Dec. 27, 2008, http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2008/dec/27/case-courthouse-curse-20081227/. 4) Clarendon Lynching of 1898, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, July 10, 2012, http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=7373. 5) A Grimes County Haunting, KBTX, Oct. 31, 2008, http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/33637879.html. 6) Julie O’Connor, TV Ghost Hunters Searching for Spirits at Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, Star-Ledger, March 15, 2009, http://www.nj.com/news/local/index.ssf/2009/03/tv_ghost_hunters_searching_for.html. 7) Debra Cassens Weiss, Exorcism was Arranged at Old Courthouse, Former Official Tells Ghost Hunters, ABA Journal, March 25, 2014, http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/exorcism_arranged_at_old_courthouse_after_construction_workers_reported_str/. 8) WKYC staff, ‘Lady in Pink’ Haunts Courthouse in Wooster, WKYC, Oct. 28, 2014, http://www.wkyc.com/news/article/319685/3/WATCH-Lady-in-Pink-haunts-courthouse-in-Wooster. 9) Roger Quigley, ‘Ghost Hunters’ Allowed to Film at Old County Prison and Courthouse, Cumberland County Commissioners Say, PennLive, Oct. 27, 2014, http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2014/10/cumberland_county_commissioner_163.html. 10) Navajo County Courthouse Ghosts, Most Haunted Places in America, Sept. 21, 2013, http://www.ghosteyes.com/navajo-county-courthouse-ghosts. 11) Tom O’Connell, Hollywood Interested in ‘Haunted’ Corrales Courthouse, Albuquerque Business Journal, July 15, 2007, http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/stories/2007/07/16/story8.html?s=print. JOHN G. BROWNING is a partner in Passman & Jones in Dallas, where he handles commercial litigation, employment, health care, and personal injury defense matters in state and federal courts. He is an award-winning legal journalist for his syndicated column, “Legally Speaking,” and the author of the Social Media and Litigation Practice Guideand a forthcoming casebook on social media and the law. He is an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. Everything I Needed to Know About Halloween I Learned in Law School BY TINA SIGURDSON 1) Don’t give out candy to kids. You don’t want to be partially liable for any cases of childhood diabetes. 2) Still leave the porch lights on so no children fall and sue you for that, either. 3) Don’t even buy candy. You’ll eat it, and you don’t have an extra six hours to hit up the gym. We’re getting into the serious portion of the semester now. 4) Don’t dress up as anything. It’s probably either false advertising or trademark infringement. If you do dress up, scrutinize any costume rental contract closely. I don’t care how long it is. The contract, that is—not the costume. The Halloween skirt length trend is concerning in a whole other way. 6) Set up your haunted house as a haunted law school. Have professors jump out of dark corners and ask whether the contract had consideration or the evidence was hearsay. Play the ominous ticking of an exam room clock. Then chase people around with a chain saw. 7) You can still watch a scary movie scooched up to your crush or significant other. Hide your face in his or her shoulder during the scary parts. You can’t let law school take away everything from you. 8) Sue the scary movie producer for intentional infliction of emotional distress. 9) Practice outlining by carving as many notes as you can onto one pumpkin. 10) If school friends try this, smash their pumpkins. Just don’t get caught; you should know the consequences of destruction of property by now. TINA SIGURDSON holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. in international studies from the University of Washington. She is a staff attorney at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Sigurdson also specializes in chemical policy and food and cosmetics law. NOW ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS Send your funny essays, deposition and trial excerpts, cartoons, jokes, and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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