Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series on the history of haunted locations in Coffee and Dale County.
There are few locations in the entire State of Alabama with a “ghost story” as well known as that of Grancer Harrison.
Outside of the tiny Coffee County town of Kinston lies an old graveyard that generations of children grew up learning about courtesy of Kathryn Tucker Windham’s “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.”
According to Windham’s story, for decades residents of the area – and those simply passing by on dark nights – told stories of feeling the presence or a cold chill and then the sounds of fiddles playing and dancing coming from the old graveyard that rests down a dirt road off County Road 473 outside of Kinston. Those sounds reportedly come from the spirit of Grancer Harrison, and most of the stories were based around Saturday nights, which is when Harrison would hold his famous dances.
William “Grancer” Harrison was born in 1789 and in the early 1800s made his way over to Coffee County from his native South Carolina, where he settled on a massive plantation overlooking the Pea River in the area near Harrison Cemetery.
Harrison is believed to be one of the largest slaveholders in Coffee County and was also one of the wealthiest residents of the county.
One of Harrison’s favorite pastimes was holding large barbecues and dances. He loved his dances so much that he had a large dance hall built to hold such events. Harrison was well known for playing his fiddle and dancing long into the night at these barbecues and dances.
As Harrison aged, he had a big brick tomb built – and a wooden pavilion built around it – and he gave instructions that he wanted his body placed on his feather bed, attired in his favorite clogging shoes, as he was laid to rest.
Before his death, Harrison let it be known that he wished for the dances in his dance hall to continue and for a time they did before eventually stopping altogether.
Following his death, rumors swirled that Harrison had gold buried with his body and unfortunately vandals desecrated his tomb – even using dynamite to get into it – numerous times only to realize that part of the legend was certainly untrue.
Over the years the pavilion fell apart and the tomb has had to be repaired numerous times. Old brick can still be seen lying near the tomb to this day.
Vandals aren’t the only interested parties in Harrison’s cemetery. The ghost stories have brought numerous curious visitors as well as paranormal investigators.
Coffee County based R.I.P. Investigations has made numerous trips to the cemetery and have had their own experiences there.
One of the most obvious things that Jerry Tyms, one of R.I.P. Investigations’ founders, said has happened is big electro magnetic field (EMF) spikes for no reason. The theory behind EMF spikes is that a spirit can give off big spikes as it attempts to manifest, using the energy around a location. In a location with no electricity – like Harrison Cemetery – EMF spikes should be minimal to nonexistent.
“We’ve had a lot of EMF spikes on our K2 meters, they would go off for no reason at all,” Tyms said. “We also got a lot of responses when we played music there.”
Tyms and his team actually played fiddle music at the tomb during an investigation in 2016 when a number of bizarre interactions occurred. First, the team’s K2 meters began spiking and then suddenly a pulsing light appeared on the tomb, only seen through the lens of the team’s camera.
As the fiddle music sped up so did the pulsing of the light, and as the team couldn’t find a reasonable explanation for the light they then pulled out a second camera. The light could also be seen on the second camera. That experience was a first for R.I.P. Investigations.
Tyms said that there is no question in his mind that many of the legends are true regarding this ghost story.
“I do think it’s haunted,” Tyms flatly said. “It’s one of those legends that seem to be true. The only difference is we haven’t heard the fiddles play yet. One of the big legends is that if you touch all four pillars of the tomb he’ll play the fiddle for you and we’ve never had that experience.”
Tyms said that occurrences seem to happen between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. in the cemetery.
R.I.P. Investigations will be returning to Harrison Cemetery Halloween night for a new investigation and Tyms said joining this time will be the great, great, great granddaughter of Harrison.
Tyms also said that the team has learned that a slave graveyard is possibly located in the woods behind Harrison Cemetery and the team will investigate that location, as well.
While most people that visit the Harrison Cemetery are typically just curious of the legends, it should be noted that the dirt road leading to the cemetery is closed from sun down to sun up and the Kinston Police Department is enforcing that policy.
“You need to have permission to be out there (after dark),” Tyms said. “If you go out there without permission (from the police department) you will be arrested. Kinston has a new police chief and he seems to be pretty strict about that.”
Kinston Police Chief Randy Givens echoed that sentiment.
“It’s closed from sun down to sun up and if anyone gets caught up there they could be arrested for criminal trespassing,” Givens emphasized.
Regardless of when curious visitors walk into Harrison Cemetery they should always be on alert to listen for fiddles or the clogs of Grancer Harrison, or even a feeling because one never knows when Harrison might make his presence known.