I have traveled across the American South for a decade and more, constantly searching for the most interesting and compelling stories to tell. Some years ago I became personally involved in a remarkable project – uncovering the fascinating tale of a long forgotten orphanage located deep in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
I was fortunate enough to interview some of the children who had grown up there, and I spent countless hours listening to their many stories. Late one night, two of us decided to sneak into the abandoned Main Orphanage Building to look for a souvenir. There wasn’t much left after the long years of neglect, but I was surprised to find some old photos tucked inside an of old White Owl cigar box hidden underneath the front stairs.
One of those photographs disturbed me deeply, and I have been reluctant to put it on display – until now. It’s a blurry black and white photo taken sometime in the 1930’s, and it shows two young boys playing with a large toy airplane in front of “Old Main.” The boy on the left is practically transparent. Now, I have viewed dozens of ghostly photographs over the years, but this one captured my full and undivided attention.
Their frightened expressions are unsettling, to be certain. Perhaps something behind the photographer scared the boys, I’m not sure. But the most troubling feature is the menacing image of a creepy human skull with dark, empty eyes floating inside the thick bushes, secretly watching and waiting. Are they somehow connected?
While doing background research for this oral history project, I read through some of the old orphanage newsletters describing the children who had died there so long ago. They were all buried in the mountain graveyard above their adopted home, their tragic stories long since forgotten. Is it possible that two of those young victims were somehow able to mix in with the other children while they played outside – but were never noticed? Their ghostly presence in this eerie photograph remains an unsolved mystery.
“The Haunted Orphanage”
In my opinion these kids don’t look frightened–they just look like little orphans who were left behind by their mother, like so many neglected kids in this world. They’re asking, “Why did my mother do this?” They are just scared little boys who were abandoned by someone they thought should have taken good care of them and loved them, but found that she just didn’t care what their little lives would turn out to be. I pray that God took care of them like He did for me.
I don’t remember those two boys. Was this picture was taken at Eliada Orphanage, where my brother and I were raised?
Hey Maye – it’s good to hear from you again. Yes, this photo was taken at the Eliada Orphanage in Asheville, N.C. It was taken in the 1930’s, almost a decade before you and Roy arrived at Eliada.
I hope this is just a trick of the light and shadows creating this strange effect in the photo. These little children look so sweet playing outside, it makes me sad to think they might have ended life so young. And that old building looks really creepy…
Robin – I have also wondered about those two boys, where they came from, and what might have happened to them. None of the alumni I spoke with who grew up there in the 1930’s recognized either child. It’s as if they never existed at all.
I’m having trouble making out the “…menacing image of a creepy human skull with dark empty eyes, floating inside the thick bushes.” Is it just barely right of center at the very top of the picture? (That’s as close as I can get.)
Alice – You can find the floating skull by looking at the far right side of the photograph, right above the toy airplane. It’s there in the bushes, staring straight at you.
Some of my readers from the U.K. have suggested that those of us who are able to see the creepy skull are visualizing something that is not really there. They call it “matrixing,” a term used to describe the natural tendency of the human mind to distinguish familiar shapes (the skull), in complex forms or colors (the thick bushes).
I still believe in the “creepy human skull…”
I was at Eliada Orphanage in the 1950’s. I recognized the buildings in the photos instantly. I remember that I had trouble sleeping because of the ghost that would visit me in the early morning hours. I was scared to death!! To this day I leave a light on beside my bed…still afraid!