Today, Memorial Park is settled in the Five Points neighborhood, home to the Bear Hollow Zoo and a part of the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department. But its past is deeper than the current zoo and hiking trails: in the 1920s and 30s, the park was home to a tuberculosis hospital called Fairhaven Sanitorium.
During the 1920s, the hospital was “a major factor in the fight waged against epidemic levels of tuberculosis,” according to “Ghosts of Athens: History and Hauntings of Athens, Georgia” by Tracy Adkins.
The Athens Banner-Herald reported that the county had gained national recognition for its tuberculosis efforts in the hospital, according to the novel, and the sanatorium was converted by the city for use as a park in the 1940s.
John McKinney, the facility Supervisor at the ACC Leisure Services Department and Memorial Park ACC government building, said he has heard stories about the basement of the tuberculosis sanitorium. It was where staff would store dead bodies at night until someone could “take them in the morning,” presumably to a burial sight.
The question of whether or not this rumor is true doesn’t take away from Terry Powell’s experience with spirits in the building. Powell is the program specialist with Athens Creative Theatre, and she has encountered spirits at Memorial Park and in the Morton Theatre.
Powell has worked for the county for over a decade in the ACC-sponsored theatrical program, and she worked at the Memorial Park office for around seven years before moving to her current location at the Morton Theatre. She began having spiritual experiences “from pretty much as soon” as she began working there.
Powell had two offices in the building; in her first office, she began smelling cigar smoke inside of the building where the offices were. She had heard rumors that one of the employees at the tuberculosis center had smoked cigars often.
In Powell’s second office, when she was promoted to program specialist, she moved to the opposite side of the hallway and heard something unusual related to the old floor boards which are original to the building, according to Powell.
“You know when, when you’re in an old house, and you walk on part of the floor and it creaks?” Powell said. “But it doesn’t creak by itself, only when somebody walks on it.”
There was a set of those old wood floors outside of her office, and sometimes when she worked late at night, she would hear the boards creaking and creaking, like someone was rocking back and forth on their heels. One night, she heard that her drawers opened by themselves and decided to ape her doors shut, Powell said.
Powell has a knack for seeing, hearing and smelling unusual or unidentifiable phenomena. Another night, when she was closing up the building and locking the doors, she went to turn off the hall light. When she looked down the hallway, she saw a man standing outside the window.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I left someone in the building’” Powell said.
She went to quickly turn off the light, began to apologize, but in the middle of the sentence she realized that there was nobody there.
“So I said, ‘OK, I gotta go now” Powell said.
Since moving from the Memorial Park offices, Powell has worked the Morton Theatre office for about six years.