Part 2 

They See Dead People

While the ladies sniffed the various candles, Steve and I made ourselves scarce and poked around the building a little bit. And OK, we checked the score of the Mets-Braves game on the TV in the break room, right off the corporate offices. Even these brightly lit modern offices are not immune, it seems, to the spectral shenanigans.

Cliff Guthrie, Joe's son, occupies an office right by the door leading to the break room and the showrooms. One night in April of this year, Cliff was working at his desk at around 9 p.m.


The sound made Cliff look up to see that the door leading out had opened about 18 inches. He got up, went over to the door, and pushed it closed until he heard the assuring closing click. He no sooner sat down than he heard it again. Click.

Looking up, Cliff saw the door open wide again. Well, that's enough work for the day, Cliff thought, and decided to pack up and go. Back to the door, this time with a click and a jiggle to make sure it was good and closed. Then he went to the restroom. When he returned, the door was open again. No fooling this time, he decided to just pack up and go. He closed the door one more time and went back to his desk to gather up his things.


The ladies cleared out around 10. Steve and I and an affectionate orange-and-white cat named Paté were the only living things left in the building.

We decided to do the building head to toe. First stop: the attic.

It feels inaccurate to say the attic is empty, though the only things up there are a few buckets, an electric fan, some rope and few soda bottles. Somehow the room seems full, stacked to its 3-by-8 beams with echoes of suffering. I guess that's the power of suggestion for you, but once we were told the attic is where they kept the bodies of the soldiers who'd died here — 300 of them — it became difficult to think of anything else. The heat, the stench, the sorrow must have been overwhelming. It is in this room that employees will sometimes come for the express purpose of ghosthunting, or then again, simply to enjoy the spectacular view of the city one can catch by crawling out of the almost-person-sized window and stepping onto the roof.

That's what Showcase store manager Robert Scott, did at about 10 p.m. on Oct. 8 of this year. He and fellow store manager Matthew Litton took a break from an event going on in the gallery and headed to the room everyone calls the morgue.

On his way back down, as he stood near the top of the attic steps, Scott says he got "the nastiest sense of the chills I've ever gotten. Something passed through me. I had to hang onto the railing. It was like something pushing through me, peeling my skin off from the inside."

We made our way down the same creaky steps to the third floor. Off the steps and to the left, supposedly, is where surgery was performed at Second Alabama Hospital. It is a mostly empty room, with reminders of Pohlig Bros. workers on the walls. A newspaper clipping commemorates a wedding anniversary. Scribbling on the wall marks the date an employee started and ended her career. Brown paint stains streak the floor. In the dark, it looks just as you'd want it to look if you were writing a ghost story.

Down the hall is the character room, a small room that is spooky in the light of day. Here, oversized, bizarre animal characters from department store windows lean and tilt at unsettling angles. A headless giraffe wearing a fur coat and a muffler stands against the wall. Haughty hippos seem dressed for church. There is a snickering Santa Claus elephant and a truly frightening French-maid monkey winking and flashing a maniacal smile. In total darkness, with nothing but my weak little flashlight and the one atop Steve's head, these characters seemed to come alive, their shadows bouncing around the room, a rhino's horn playing grotesquely huge against the wall.

Ed German hates this room. The director of management information services had never been up here before May of this year when the company was doing its inventory. Suffering from a "massive sinus infection" he was feeling pretty raw that day, but at about 6 p.m. he went up to the third floor to check on the progress. Upon his entering the room, something entered him. "Pretty much when I walked into the room I felt something move through me. I felt tingly. It made every hair on my body stand up," he says. But it was his head, with that sinus infection, that felt the strangest. "I felt it very strongly like it was sloshing through something, like it hit something it wasn't expecting, like extra resistance."

German's a computer guy. He deals with hard data. What does he make of all this? "Is it a magnetic field, a spatial anomaly? Who knows?" he asks rhetorically, only to semi-answer his own question: "There's something in this building."

"Did you hear that?" I whispered to Steve. His eyes widened and his lips curled up slightly. He'd heard it and he was glad.

I stopped him with a hand to his chest and we listened, both looking up to where the footsteps seemed to be coming from. Where there should be no footsteps. We were, after all, at the top of the building. We were entering the room where mannequins and mannequin parts are stored. We'd been told there was nothing but roof above. Still, we'd both heard them — the sound of pressure on the boards above us. Undeniable as footsteps, but fleeting and, ultimately, unverifiable. We scanned the room, and it was Steve who first drew the inevitable parallel between what this place is and what it once was. Soldiers lost their arms and legs here; now synthetic limbs are piled up and tossed around almost like a sick joke. Damaged mannequins bear holes in the skull — tape, like bandages, adorns their heads. Leaving the mannequin storage room and heading back toward the main stairs I got a chill — nothing passing through me — it was just so frightfully dark. I don't know why I glanced behind me, but when I did, the darkness itself startled me. Behind me lay a seamless blanket of blackness — before me, a giant ball of Swiss cheese. God, this place was weird.

I didn't like the word subbasement from the first time Matthew Litton, one of the Showcase sales staff, said it. I was not looking forward to going down there in the suffocating dark. Something had happened to him down there, but to get there we had to go through the first basement, where the most dramatic ghost sighting in the building happened.

The first basement is filled with large showcases, panes of glass, and the occasional cage filled with giant foam jacks.

I began to feel uneasy near the dock doors and I stuck to Steve like Velcro. My heart was pounding like a tom-tom, and my tongue felt like sandpaper in my mouth. Then we heard it: Meow. Meow. Meow. In the dark, in my state of mind, it sounded just like Help. Help. Help. I had to get out of there. Paté meowed at us repeatedly from the dock doors. One of the most terrifying employee stories happened in the spot where Paté stood, her eyes glowing iridescent blue and green in the glare of our flashlights.

Lance Pittman, vice president of operations, was leaving work at about 9 p.m. one night last July. He was going down to the basement to make sure the dock doors were closed. He walked down the steps, pushed the door open and there it was. A soldier. Walking toward Pittman. "There was a guy in a Civil War uniform walking full force straight at me, hard, like he was determined. He couldn't have been more than 15 feet in front of me." Pittman says the soldier had a mustache and was wearing a dark blue uniform with white pants, which had a dark stripe down the side. The man also was wearing a dark hat and boots that came up to just below the knee. He had no weapons. Pittman says the man didn't seem hostile, just determined. "He was almost marching, like he was heading somewhere," Pittman says. In an instant, the soldier was gone. Pittman adds: "That'll stop your heart."

I'm glad we didn't know that story when we were standing there, but we did know Litton's story as we headed for the subbasement. It was at the bottom of the narrow and treacherously dark stairwell leading to the subbasement that Litton had an experience similar to German's and Scott's. As he was heading back up the steps one day in August, Litton felt something walk through him, a numbingly cold presence that seemed to move from back to front. And then he heard the sound of heavy boots clomping up the stairs in front of him. "I don't care what anybody says. Something happened to me in the subbasement," Litton says.

"You go first," I ordered Steve. The clomping of his very real boots comforted me as I followed behind up the steps toward the first basement and first floor.

We wanted to go back to the gallery and just wait. Maybe something would happen there. We had to cross through one more showroom, where Pittman had had his first sighting. It was close to the gallery, on the other side of the wall from where Biringer had seen his apparition.

Pittman's was perhaps the first sighting — it was the fall of 1997, just after the purchase of the building, and he was trying to turn the lights off from a breaker box in one of the showrooms just off the gallery. It was close to midnight and he was alone in the building. Looking toward the gallery to see if he was throwing the right switches to turn the lights off, he saw what looked like a man's shadow. The inky black figure was moving, walking. Pittman thought someone else was in the building. "I started to walk over and said 'hey.'" The figure kept walking toward the corner and then behind a column. Pittman looked away for a second and then back, and it was gone, but there was no exit for someone to have left through. "I clearly saw a man's shadow walking," Pittman says with certainty. "I freaked. I got the chills. I just left."

Steve and I sat down on a comfortable leather sofa in the gallery, just feet from where Biringer had seen his soldier. In the distance, we could hear Paté meowing. We talked for a bit and then sat in silence, in darkness, waiting.

But ultimately, we would see nothing.


Nothing I could prove, nothing I could disprove. Yet, there was something. There was the testimony of some very normal and credible people. There was the history of suffering in the building. And there was the feeling everywhere you went in the building that someone was trying to tell you something. Why couldn't I hear it? Had I been protected by my natural reporter's skepticism? By the law of averages that says I wouldn't see something in a single visit? By the holy medals I'd ludicrously pinned to the inside of my jeans pocket just in case?

I stood in the dark and stared out of the gallery windows for a few minutes taking in the extraordinary view of at least a dozen old warehouses and factories just like the one I stood in — the one in which levelheaded people say they've seen ghosts and felt spectral presences. Satisfied that we had checked every inch of the place, Steve and I locked up and left around 12:30 a.m.

As I wound my way back home, I slowed my car so I could scan some of the district's other old buildings — so many of them like 2419 E. Franklin, each with its own history. All those floors with all those windows, all those rooms, bricks and heavy wooden beams — all the stories they'd tell. The possible resting place of a not-so-restful soul everywhere you turn.


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