by tony harrington
THE HISTORY OF SMACKOVER
Smackover, Arkansas is located 120 miles south of Little Rock.
In the mid 1700s, French trappers originally settled the area and named it Sumac Courvert, which translates to “covered in sumac”. It wasn’t until the arrival of early land grant settlers in 1833 that the name took on the anglicized pronunciation that the town goes by today.
By the dawn of 1920, the town of Smackover was a sleepy hamlet of sharecroppers and sawmill owners with a population of less than one-hundred residents. All of that changed on July 1, 1922 when a sawmill owner by the name of Sidney Umstead decided to drill for oil in the area after having heard of oil-strikes in Louisiana, which shared similarities in geological formations with the town of Smackover.
Umstead struck oil, and it was a gusher. It didn’t take long for word to spread and within six months, the town’s population had boomed from ninety to over twenty-five thousand.
On the third of November, the town was officially incorporated and was home to over one thousand oil wells spread across multiple settlements.
The boom was not without a downside. The spontaneous growth brought with it an undesirable criminal element such as gambling halls, bars, and prostitution. So lawless was the town, none of the men who petitioned for incorporation ran for office.
Trouble had been brewing in the months leading up to the incorporation. Rivalries between the drilling companies had begun to spill out into the streets. Spats turned to physical altercations, physical altercations between individuals led to groups of men going toe-to-toe. This escalation ultimately lead to the murder of a driller named Ed Cox on November 24, 1922.
Ed’s murder was followed up on the following night with the murder (Perhaps an act of reprisal) of Cotton Parsons; a driller from a neighboring oil settlement.
By the 26th of November, a third oil worker had been murdered in the town and another man was allegedly tarred and feathered.
These events necessitated the formation of a 200 member citizen-militia that called themselves the “Cleanup Committee”. On the night of November 27th, the masked and robed committee walked through the streets of Smackover carrying signs and chanting, giving the the lawless element twenty-four hours to leave town or face consequences.
The committee kept true to their word, and on the evening of November 28, 1922, all hell broke loose. The committee came face to face with an estimated two-thousand bootleggers, dive owners, and gamblers who had risen up to challenge the committee. For almost six hours, the battle raged in the streets of Smackover. Shots were fired, houses and businesses were set ablaze, men were dragged into the streets and beaten.
When the dust settled, it was estimated that over sixty men had lost their life in the skirmish, though the official number number remains a mystery with some accounts stating that there was only a single confirmed casualty.
THE TOWN EMBRACES THE PAST
Eventually the wells dried up and a bulk of the settlements packed up and headed out, looking for the next opportunity.
Today, the town of Smackover is home to over two-thousand residents. The blue collar city is made up of hard working individuals with a strong sense of community and faith.
The town embraces its history as one of the largest oil towns of the time while living a quiet modern existence. But the passing of time doesn’t mean that they forget the riot of 1922. In fact, according to some business owners whose shops align the commercial district along Broadway street in city center, the past still lingers.
For many in town, it is a well-accepted fact that there are ghosts occupying many of the businesses.
The historic building that houses the flower shop has been visited by full body apparitions, shadow figures, and balls of light that dart across floors.
The old firehouse (now in disrepair) has reports of visitors hearing disembodied voices, footsteps, and a general sense of unease and the feeling of being watched/stalked.
All-in-all, the town has five known active paranormal hot spots as identified by S.P.I.R.I.T on previous visits to the town. However, there was a sixth building that was never meant to be investigated that turned out to hold the most terrifying encounter the group had ever experienced.
S.P.I.R.I.T RETURNS TO SMACKOVER
In October of 2010, The Spirit Seekers team was invited back to Smackover by the chamber of commerce to conduct it’s largest investigation yet. In one night-long event we were given access to the five buildings and structures where activity had been rampant.
We arrived with one of the largest teams in Spirit Seekers investigative history. We were welcomed and set up base in a meeting hall. It was there that we were told that there was a group of residents who would be following us along on our investigations as we were guests on an official ghost tour.
We split up into groups, each group heading to a different spot. We would switch locations with our group after thirty minutes or so.
My team was made up of team lead Jason Hall, team psychic Christina South, and myself. We were assigned to investigate the old fire house. When we arrived at the station we were taken aback by the condition of the structure. It was pretty much just a standing frame, but the walls and roof had collapsed in and we were literally trouncing through rubble with a small group of tourists.
We made the best of it. We took baseline readings then snapped pictures, filmed some video, and conducted EVP sessions. It was a rather eerie building, but safety concerns took precedence as there were boards with upturned nails exposed all over the ground. One wrong step and any one of us could have ended up with a rusty nail through the bottom of our foot.
The team lead radioed to base and let S.P.I.R.I.T founder Alan Lowe know that we were turning back for the safety of the tour group and ours as well.
We returned to the meeting hall, where our group of tourists disbanded and joined the other groups at the flower shop, the oil fields, the old jail. It was there that we met with the chamber of commerce and let them know our concerns.
In an effort to provide their tour groups the best experience and to honor the promise of visiting five paranormal hotspots, they told us to investigate the library which was housed in the basement of an old church that now served as the town hall meeting chamber. We were told that there was nothing paranormal ever reported there, but it would at least give the tour group something to do.
WE WERE NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE THERE
Jason Hall, Christina South, and I entered the town hall through the front door. It was an empty chamber with a stage; it used to be an altar as the town hall was once a Methodist church during the town’s boom days. We didn’t feel anything negative up there but we gave the room a cursory once-over then headed to the door that lead down into the basement that served as the public library.
I was the first one down the stairs. It was dark, the only light came from the soft green glow of a computer monitor’s power button and the blinking lights of the modem.
I was immediately drawn to a corner of the library that was to the left of a kitchen and back office area. I am not sure what drew me there but immediately I was on edge. I heard Jason and Christina coming down the steps behind me. As I moved toward the dark corner of the library, the beam from my flashlight blinked a few times, then faded to black.
I called to Christina and asked her to come my way. I could see her flashlight as she approached. She said, “Do you feel that? It’s almost oppressive?”
I replied, “My flashlight just died. These were brand new batteries.”
Then, as if on cue, Christina’s flashlight flickered, then faded to dark.
It was definitely an odd moment that was unexpected, especially since we had just gotten there. There was no lengthy build up, no slow reveal, it was on the moment we set foot in that library. What was even more fascinating is that the activity was occuring in a building that had no record of paranormal activity in the little haunted town. We were never supposed to be there, it was never intended to be investigated, it was simply a fall-back plan. We were there to check things out before allowing a group of ghost-tour participants to join us in a mock investigation.
WHAT IT DOES IN THE SHADOWS
Christina and I changed out the batteries in our flashlights while Jason Hall set up some video cameras. There was a steady growing sense of dread that all three of us felt. It was like the barometric pressure was building, we mentioned that it felt like our ears needed to pop.
We did our normal baseline readings. Grabbed the temperature, checked for areas of high electromagnetic fields, and walked through the aisles of bookshelves ensuring there was no one else there.
I needed to load a new cassette into my camcorder so I took a seat on a wooden chair that was in one row of bookshelves, the main walkway through the library cut horizontally between the row of bookshelves in which I sat and a row of bookshelves about twenty feet away directly in front of me. I was in the middle of unwrapping the small video cassette and I look up at some movement that caught my eye.
The library is in almost complete darkness, I can barely see a few feet in front of my face, but there in the inky black shadows of the towering bookshelves, I see what looks like moving fog– or some indiscernible shape. Whatever it was, it looked like swirling tendrils of smoke at first. I tried to focus, to hone in on what it was I thought I was seeing. Then, from out of the moving black mass, emerged what looked like the upper torso of something humanoid. It took a few steps forward and stopped. It was as if it was looking at me looking at it and trying to figure out what I was as much as I was trying to figure out what it was.
I took a notepad and pen out of my pocket and jotted down “human dark figure”. I then told Christina and Jason that I am seeing something and I need one of them to come over and sit where I am sitting and look across the aisle to the next row of books.
Jason took up the challenge and replaced me on the chair.
I got up and walked over to Christina who was looking very uneasy at this point. We both watched Jason who was staring intently across the library floor.
Christina mentioned that she felt something oppressive, something evil. She said that it doesn’t feel like it was ever human. Whatever it was, it was there and what it does in the shadows was just becoming evident.
Jason stirred in the seat and looked over at us. He looked uncertain, as if he thought a joke was being played on us. “I don’t like this,” he said. “Do you want me to say what I think I see?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“There’s a shadow figure back there, moving. Staring back at me.”
I opened my notepad and showed Jason and Christina what I wrote earlier. It was confirmed, we were seeing something and whatever it was, didn’t seem too happy with our being there.
IT WAS NEVER HUMAN
As we continued our investigation it became very evident that something was circling us. We all felt it and eventually Jason, Christina, and I ended up at a table in the center of the library near the librarian’s desk/check-out desk.
I started smelling something sweet, almost like those hard butterscotch candies, the kind in the golden cellophane wrappers that grandmothers have in their purse. The others smelled it as well and it would ebb and flow. as if it was getting closer then falling back.
Christina then proclaimed that she was going to try to communicate with it.
Jason and I stood quietly by while Christina did her thing. It wasn’t like in the movies. She didn’t walk around with her arms outstretched or hands raised. She simply closed her eyes and lowered her head. After a few minutes she said to it six words that raised the hair on my arms and on the back of my neck; “I know who your father is.”
The moment those words left her mouth, the temperature in the library dropped considerably and the heavy feeling burst like a balloon.
“It was never human,” Christina said, her voice beginning to shake. “I have to get out of here…”
At this point Christina lost her composure and began crying, something I have never seen her do on an investigation before. She ran for the stairs and headed up and out the front door.
She passes our founder Alan Lowe on the way out the door who is heading down to the library to check on us. Jason mentions something about batteries and heads up the stairs, past Alan, and out the door.
Alan gets to the bottom of the steps, looks at me and asks me where Jason and Christina were going. I replied something to the effect of, “I’ve got to get the hell out of here”, upon which I pushed Alan out of the way and ran up the steps, through the meeting hall, and out the door to the parking lot; leaving poor Alan all by himself.
BE CAREFUL, IT’S DEMONIC
Alan joined us out in the parking lot. He looked perplexed as three of his investigators had just barrelled past him in an effort to get out of a library. We told him about the encounter and what it felt like and what we saw and experienced. Christina was just beginning to gather her composure and was filling him in on what happened during her communication with whatever was in there when Alan’s cell phone rang.
It was his wife and co-founder of SpiritSeekers Paranormal Investigation, Research, & Intervention Team, Angela Lowe. She was calling from their home in Roland, Arkansas, over 130 miles away.
Angie is a psychic-medium as well and she felt something terrifying stemming from our investigation. She called Alan with a warning, “I don’t know what’s happening there right now, but I want you you guys to be careful, it’s demonic.”
The color drained from Alan’s face and he stepped away to continue the conversation and fill Angie in on our encounter.
During this time, several other members of the team had wrapped up their investigations with the tour group and had seeked us out at the library. We talked with them and let them know what happened and they wanted to go in.
Alan was debating whether or not to allow us to continue or if we would simply go in, collect our equipment and get out. By this time, about a half hour had passed and Jason, Christina, and I were ready to set foot back inside, if only to get out belongings.
Alan wanted to conduct a dowsing rod session to see if he could get whatever was present to communicate.
One of the other investigators, Chuck Matthews, had brought along a “Frank’s Box” and he wanted to see if he could use it to get a response from whatever haunted the library. A Frank’s Box, also known as a Spirit Box, is a modified transistor radio that cycles through the FM dial. The theory is that spirits can use the box to grab randomly broadcasted words to answer questions asked of them.
So, it was decided. We were heading back in. As an atheist, I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for demons. If that is truly what this was, then perhaps we should ask for protection from whatever else may be out there.
Uncharacteristically, I asked, “Should we pray?” We joined hands, and Alan said a prayer of protection, then we mustered our mental strength and headed back inside.
IT IS A LIAR, AND IT’S PLAYING WITH US
Alan, Jason, Christina, Chuck and his girlfriend Karla, and I all headed back into the library. The three investigators who first encountered the presence noted how drastically different it felt in there since we left.
It was lighter and felt less threatening. Whatever was in there with us seemed to had withdrawn. Alan drew his dowsing rods and we gathered around him.
Dowsing, or divining rods, are metal rods bent into an L shape. The user hold them by the lower bar of the “L” and asks questions of any spirit that may be present. The idea is that spirits can draw energy from the person holding the rods and cross the bars to indicate a positive answer (yes) and uncross -or remain uncrossed-for a negative (no).
Alan first asked if there was something or someone in the library with us. There was a long moment of nothing happening, then slowly, the rods crosssed and stayed crossed. A yes.
Alan uncrossed the rods and asked if they were happy we were there. The bars remained uncrossed. A no.
Alan: Do you know why we are here?
Alan: Were you the one who scared my investigators?
Alan: Did you want to hurt them?
Alan: Have you been here since before this church was built?
Alan: Have you ever walked the earth in a human form?
Alan: Are you demonic?
Alan: Are you angelic?
Alan: Are you protecting this building since it used to be a church?
Alan: Do you want us to leave?
Christina, Jason, and I bristled with the last few answers. Something wasn’t right. What we experienced and felt did not come across as angelic. It was the antithesis of angelic; it felt dark and evil.
Christina spoke up. “It’s a liar, and it’s playing with us!”
The oppressive feeling returned almost immediately. Everyone felt it, a pressure built up inside the library and everyone felt like we were being circled again. It felt like something was on the attack.
Alan: Is that you?
Alan: Are you trying to hurt us?
Alan closed communication off and put the rods down. He was exhausted, his energy drained from the communication with whatever was in there with us.
We all took a seat at a long table to write down our experiences for the report. At this time, Chuck fired up the Frank’s Box and started asking questions. He asked if it knew the name of anyone on the team. As the box moved up and down the dial, a voice from a broadcast announced, “Tommy”.
We didn’t have a Tommy on our team, but the fact that the response was indeed a proper name was a bit unnerving. I had always written the Frank’s Box off as junk. I still wasn’t sure, but the odds that a randomly grabbed word was a succinct answer to a posed question are low.
I then said, “Do you know Christina? She’s the one who spoke to you and said she knew your father?”
The box moved up and down the dial, then came a response that was clear and plain as day.
Everyone’s jaw dropped and we looked around at each other dumbfounded.
“Well,” Christina said. “It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever been called.”
That was it, we all started laughing and decided that we had done all we could. We packed up our stuff and headed out. We told the members of the chamber of commerce what we had experienced and they asked us to not mention any of this in our report as the old lady who served as librarian for the town would quit if she even thought there was a ghost or demon there.
TEN YEARS LATER
The Smackover investigation was ten years ago and it remains, to this day, the single most terrifying investigation I have ever been on. We never published a final report or shared any pictures or video from the investigation. Sadly, any documented evidence we had was lost to time. All we have are the personal stories of those who took part in this investigation.
A version of the investigation was shared by Jason Hall in the book he co-authored with Alan Lowe: “Supernatural Arkansas: Ghosts, Monsters, and the Unexplained“
As a result of the investigation, several members left the team, unable to reconcile just what it was they experienced. Those who stayed with the organization were forever changed. To this day I still struggle rationalizing just what it was we experienced?
Was it a ghost? Was it a demon? Or was it something else entirely, something logical like a mass-hysteria event or some other outside element?
What is the most terrifying experience you have encountered? If you have a story you want to share with us, or if you have questions about what happened during this investigation, please feel free to share in the comment section below.