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Searching for ghosts of bygone era

October 7, 2010

People looking for a fright this Halloween month now have the option of walking through a place long thought to be haunted by real ghosts.
Starting tonight and continuing every Saturday and Friday at 7 p.m. until the end of the month, the Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society will guide people through what it calls the “perfect Halloween Experience” — a tour of the Gulf Ordnance Plant, where thousands of workers stood in line to make weapons for World War II.
Jennifer Sweeney, who regularly investigates the Ordnance with her husband Terry and the group they started together, said that almost everyone who knows about the plant has heard a harrowing ghost story about it.
“People claim to have seen full-bodied apparitions in broad daylight there,” she said. “We’ve investigated everything from private homes to cemeteries to old hospitals. The Ordnance is, by far, one of the most haunted places we’ve ever been.”
Located in Prairie — a small town 30 minutes from Starkville, 15 minutes from West Point and 20 minutes from Columbus — the Ordnance once took up over 6,000 acres for its 100 buildings and nearly 30 miles of railroad track and blacktop roads.
The second largest business in the state, the Ordnance had 5,000 women standing in designated lines all day and every day making ammunition, bombs and rocket launchers, all day and every day, while U.S. soldiers were fighting on Japanese and German fronts. Workers only had Christmas Day off.
“They needed ammunition bad,” said Brent Coleman, who wrote a book about the area called “Gulf Ordnance Plant.”
When the U.S. military suddenly ran out of supplies, 500 women volunteered to work a double shift. One of them was about to have a baby.
“Now that’s dedication,” Coleman said.
Coleman, a Monroe County sheriff’s officer, uncovered information that two people died while working at the plant, while many others were seriously injured.
The workers also experienced what they called encounters with ghosts, Coleman said.
Not far from a large cemetery, Prairie is also the site of the 1864 Battle of Okolona between Confederate and Union forces during the American Civil War.
“Lots of soldiers died and were buried there,” said Coleman, who has seen unexplainable things himself.
“I’m an investigator, so I like to keep and open mind,” he said.
Coleman was the first to write about the Ordnance when editors of the magazine “Tombigbee Country” assigned him the story.
At first, he could find very few pictures or recorded information.
“It was a mutinous plant; there was always a threat of sabotage, so security was of the utmost importance,” Coleman said.
The plant did not allow media to enter its premises, but produced its own newsletter every two weeks.
Set up like its own city, it had a cafeteria big enough to feed all the workers at once, a fire department, 16 warehouses for ammunition ready to be shipped and 25 warehouses for material shipped in and sorted by railroads and trucks.
The Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society are trying to raise funds to preserve what is left of the Ordnance.
“We want to help educate people about this place and show them the value of preserving such an important historical landmark,” Sweeney said. “The ghost stories and investigation are fun and exciting, but this is place is part of our history. Prairie is more than just some tiny town in Mississippi. Something happened here.”
The cost for the tour is $25 per person, and reservations are required. For more information, call 315-0381 or visit: http://www.ghosthuntingexperience.com.

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