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The Haunted St. James Hotel of Alabama

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From Panoramio

In 1837 the Brantley Hotel opened in Selma, Alabama.  It was named after the head financier, Brigadier General John Brantley and catered to the rich cotton traders and other wealthy agriculturists and plantation owners of the mid-19th century.

Throughout the years and throughout many different owners, the Brantley Hotel went through some interesting transitions.  Owner, Dr. James Gee renamed the Brantley renamed the hotel the Troupe House, and put his slave, Benjamin Sterling Turner in charge of management.  Turner would go on to become the first African-American mayor of Selma, and the first African-American elected to U.S. Congress.

During the Civil War, the hotel was saved from the destruction of the town.  In 1865, when Union troops took over Selma, they burned much of the business district and factories.  The hotel was saved due to the fact that the troops used it as their headquarters.

It wouldn’t be until 1871 that Captain Tom Smith, the newest owner, changed the name to the St. James Hotel.  It was during Smith’s tenure that the infamous Frank and Jesse James allegedly stayed at the hotel.  Unfortunately, hard times during the 1890s led to the closure of the St. James.  Afterward, the former hotel became used as storage and office space, a feed store, and a tire recapping factory.  The first floor was completely gutted, and several wings were demolished during this time period.

A group of concerned citizens and investors came together in the 1990s, and at a cost of $6 million, restored the hotel to its former glory.  Luckily, much of the upper floors were still in tact, but improvements were made to update the hotel with modern amenities.  The new St. James Hotel opened in 1997 and it wouldn’t be long before the ghost stories started pouring in.

By Alex Bush, c. 1937

According to different sources, there are three main ghosts that call the St. James home.  The first is the most interesting to me.  Apparently guests have often complained about hearing a dog incessantly barking in the courtyard, keeping them up all night.  When staff goes to investigate, there are no dogs to be found.  The sound of a dog running in the halls has also been noted.

The second ghost is said to be none other than Jesse James himself.  A man in 1800s clothing, complete with spurs has been seen in several locations throughout the hotel, most notably exiting rooms 214, 314, and 315, as well as sitting at a table in the bar.

“Lucinda” is the third ghost of the St. James.  A portrait of Lucinda hangs in the Water Avenue side sitting room.  Lucinda most often makes her presence known through the strong scent of lavender, but she’s been seen on occasion as well, walking the halls of the upper floors.  But who is Lucinda?  Legend has it that Lucinda was a long-term resident of the hotel…and the mistress of Jesse James.

If you stay at the hotel and are interested in the ghostly side of its history, make sure you ask the front desk staff to see the ghost photo.  The photo, allegedly showing one of the ghosts of the St. James isn’t on display, but staff will be glad to show it to you.  It’ll be up to you to decide whether its just lens flare…or something more!

Article by Beverly Crider
St. James Hotel Website
St. James Virtual Tour
Southern Spirit Guide


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