Last year, Halloween night and its haunting folly happened to conjure some overwhelmingly unwelcome guests. Disfigured humanoid dolls seemed to appear on their own out of the black, sludgy earth, jutting out from the edges of the swamp. Autauga County residents were so creeped out when they discovered the deformed dolls lining the swamp, their hair and faced stained white, stabbed onto bamboo stakes, displayed all around the water, erected from the sludgy shore. The sight of the plastic babies was so disturbing that locals alerted the Sheriff’s office to please take these menacing toys down. Reactions were overwhelming, even gaining national attention. The sheriff’s office decided to deal with the matter, having to board a canoe and paddle through the area for the better part of an hour to reach all of the eerie creatures.
No one knows, to this day, who made the things, where they came from, or what they even meant. The land was owned by a timber company, so “creepy lawn ornaments” is ruled out (oh, you know some southerners just can’t seem to get enough of those wooden cutouts of ducks and wide little ladies bent down gardening). This would have the air of macabre halloween prank, if it wasn't for the already dense supply of lore that surrounds the swamp.
For years, stories have been told about this area and the ghosts that roam its murky waters and dense, dark woods. Loud crashing and booming is heard on a regular basis from deep in the woods. Phantom cars speed towards folks only to swerve off the road at the last minute. Orbs float in front of cars, following locals down the road, brightly flashing and tailing the motorists. Apparitions are said to appear in front of visitors as well, and are said to have four legs and utter gnarly vicious sounds. Haints from native tribes and early settlers are said to be seen on a regular basis, seeing as this area was the site of native villages as well as Civil War camps.
There is a said to be woman in Prattville near the swamp, dressed in full black 1900’s funeral attire, that makes her appearance, not just as an airy apparition, but in a complete solid-bodied state. She glides with ease across the floor of the cotton mill in town, making clear eye contact with the living beings present, her eyes searching the room for her family. Her son slipped and fell down the elevator shaft in the early 1900’s and her soul has never recovered from the catastrophic loss. After many minutes of her fruitless earthing, she hangs her head, discouraged at the end of another attempt at reunion of mother and child, as she glides back out the shop door. Her story can be found in Jefferey Introduces Thirteen More Southern Ghosts by Katherine Tucker Windham.
The darkest lore from Autauga County, though, are the claims of being physically threatened and attacked by the spirit of a mourning mother. The tale that’s told is of a loving mother playing with her child in the countryside, like the joyful family was used to doing on beautiful days in the country. With the Civil War taking place so close to home, the mother panicked when she lost sight of her little one. She frantically searched the woods and the waters for any sign of life. She never found her baby’s body, and has been searching the area every night since she last saw the child alive. Accounts by locals, ghost hunters, and bravely curious souls all say that they have been blinded by stark light that travels at incredible speed toward them, they have been screamed at with piercing shrieks, they have been pushed into the treacherous brush, they have been knocked down into the black waters, and they have felt threatened with an overall feeling of cold and anger from a malicious being, after taunting the mourning woman, repeating, “I got your baby.”
With all of those accounts being a fraction of the lore that has settled like a dense fog on this area, it is easy to believe that the dolls that were set in place around the murky waters would create instant lore. But what is it about these humanoid toys that create so much of a horrific uproar? Is it because they are so similar looking to our helpless spawn? Does it give us a feeling of the inanimate object having life-like qualities? The wikipedia entry for “pediophobia” or the fear of dolls, explains, “The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud claimed that children fantasize about dolls coming to life. Psychologist Ernst Jentsch theorized that uncomfortable or uncanny feelings arise when there is an intellectual uncertainty about whether an object is alive or not, and also when an object that one knows to be inanimate resembles a living being enough to generate confusion about its nature.” One of my favorite YouTube channels, Vsauce, explains the difference between what terrifies and horrifies us, such as things that we know to be fiction versus those that are a little too close to the scary truth. Check out the video on the creeps here.
The spirits of the world beyond seem to attach themselves to dolls, maybe for these same reasons: the toys are such a close depiction of the bodies they used to possess. Jeremy Gray of al.com recently investigated the house of a man that collects dolls and other objects that he believes are all haunted by someone. The collector, being a Devout Southern baptist as well as an author of southern ghost tales, believes that the inhabitants of these dolls are just souls that mean no harm. He calls them his spirit children, claiming that demons can hurt people, but these spirits cannot. He collects the items to help others out by taking the negative energy off of their hands. The collection started when friends gave him the first doll in 2013, claiming that the doll belonged to the daughter of a prostitute who got into her mother’s pills and died. Their granddaughter told them that she didn't want to play with the toy because there was always another girl playing with her. They quickly got that thing gone. Another doll in the collection is one hundred years old and would always be in a new place when the owner returned home each day. She rid herself of the object with haste as well. A mirror in the man’s collection may have a soul trapped in it from the previous owner’s frivolous use of a ouija board in a cemetery. Read the whole story and check out the super creepy slideshow here.
Whatever your stance on dolls, possessions, roaming orbs, or malicious mother ghosts, you can not help but get lost in the rich supernatural nature that hides in every nook and cranny of the Alabama terrain. So here’s to ringing in a happy and haunting hallows eve: crave the creepy, heed the horrifying, tango through the terrifying and gallop through the gross… just as long as your possessions aren’t possessed and your toys stay put.