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 condemned Main Orphanage Building to look for a souvenir. There wasn’t much left after the long years of neglect, but I did surprisingly find some old photos tucked inside a battered 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. Is there a connection between them?
While doing background research for this oral history project, I read through some of the orphanage newsletters that described 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”