Editor's NotesNews & Opinion

Editor’s Note: Ghost Stories and Abandoned Cemeteries

Before we go

This week’s issue has a spooky theme running through it, with it being Halloween and all, but in putting it together, I ended up learning a lot about Charlotte history. What are stories about haunted houses and abandoned cemeteries, anyway, if not history stories?

As the son of a genealogist, I was immediately interested when Jason Tapp of Spooky CLT first contacted me back in August about a new project he had taken up with Will Dalen regarding what was believed by many to be an abandoned cemetery for enslaved people.

The cemetery is located on Remount Road at the intersection of Youngblood Street, and many people walk by it every day without knowing what it is. I spent the next two months researching the abandoned graveyard, and with the help of local historian Tom Hanchett, was able to connect with a few descendants of the Shumans, the family that once owned the land there and is believed to buried in the 16 or so plots.

The Shuman family were not slaveholders, and there is no evidence that enslaved people were buried at the cemetery in question. It was the process of finding all this out that was the fun part for me.

I was given access to years worth of emails between Shuman descendants, many of whom are dedicating their twilight years to tracing their family line back to the cemetery. I met with Tommy Beatty, whose 4x great-grandfather is believed to have owned the land before his daughter married a Shuman and they developed the family plot that now sits unnoticed.

The abandoned Shuman Cemetery. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Beatty is a lifelong Charlottean at 72 and as sweet a man as you can find — full of energy despite all his talk of his “impending death.” On Oct. 24 we‘ll start the long process that he has worked toward for years, to get proper recognition for the old graveyard that has sat abandoned for decades.

Another story was more straightforward in its spookiness, and yet hit even harder in the history that enwrapped it. For our cover story on the Charlotte Area Paranormal Society, I joined staff writer Pat Moran and photographer Grant Baldwin for a ghost investigation at Rosedale, an old plantation house sitting on a busy part of North Tryon Street.

I agree with those who hate the idea of folks holding events at old plantations, turning sites of trauma into destinations and dollars. As is described in our cover story, coming later this week, however, CAPS founder Tina McSwain is vehemently against the idea of profiting in any way off of the work that her organization does. She is not there to entertain folks; she takes her work seriously, and that Saturday night event was more educational than anything.

It irks me when educators at historical sites like Rosedale try to brush over the realities of racism. I remember visiting the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander house at Charlotte Museum of History — back before Adria Focht took the reins and made things more enlightened over there. I had to stop a tour guide who was praising the woman whose “job” it was to wake up and spend all day in the kitchen.

I asked if I was wrong in my assumption that this woman was not doing this out of devotion to the family or the kindness of her heart, but because she was an enslaved person and may very well have been killed or harmed if she hadn’t. The guide admitted that, yes, there were believed to be many slaves living on the property at the time.

There was no such effort to sweep slavery under the rug at Rosedale, as we were taught the names of the 33 enslaved people who lived there and told their stories.

It irked me, however, to hear Dr. David Caldwell described as “benevolent” for buying the rights to enslaved people who had family members at Rosedale so as to reunite them. Just minutes later, it was explained that an enslaved person named George was rumored to be Caldwell’s son. So much for benevolence (not that it ever existed in a slaveholder to begin with).

The cellar at Rosedale. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The two stories coincided for me during a walk through Old Settlers Cemetery in Uptown, where folks from the Caldwell and Davidson families that ran Rosedale are buried. Almost every marker that was bigger than your typical grave carried the name of some family with a Charlotte street named after them, etched into the annals of local history despite being slaveholders.

Then there was Jacob Shuman, in a plot on the corner with a barely decipherable marker at ground level that’s been cracked and washed out over the years. In another corner, a space believed to hold the formerly enslaved, who were not even named, their plots unmarked.

In the end, we all end up in the ground, or in an urn, or wherever it may be. It’s best we leave our mark while we’re still around, because history will sort the rest out eventually. And if that scares you, you’re doing it all wrong. 

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