Civil War, Creepy history, Ghosts, Irvington Ghost Tours, Travel

Haunted Antique Mall.


Original publish date:  October 5, 2010              Reissue / Updated: August 6, 2020

Here’s a one tank trip that might just help make your autumn season a little bit better. It combines many things that I like and perhaps a couple of things you might fancy as well; History, Antiques and ghosts! Recently my wife Rhonda and I took a trip down to New Albany, Indiana (just a stones throw from Louisville) to visit a place I’d long heard about but had yet to visit, Aunt Arties Antique Mall at 128 W. Main Street in New Albany.
Judy Gwinn is the owner of the old Ohio River Opera House and has turned the stately old building into one of the nicest antique malls in Southern Indiana. For antiquers, it is like stepping a decade back in time to a multi-dealer co-op with 3 floors of collectibles that would please most any collector. In short, it’s a mall full of quality merchandise the likes of which we all used to find in the days before Ebay.
“There are a lot of strange things that go on in this old building,” Judy says, “It has a vibe all its own.” Gwinn has operated the antique mall for nearly 10 years now and has witnessed many unexplained occurrences over the past decade. Lucky for Judy and her dealers, the ghosts of Aunt Arties aren’t poltergeists so breakage has not been a problem, “Although they sometimes move things around the building.”

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Woodward Hall New Albany, Indiana

The building, originally known as Woodward Hall, was built in 1853 and purposely situated a block from the river on the corner of State and Main, “J.K. Woodward built it so that his wife and kids did not have to deal with the drunks and neer-do-wells that often prowled the docks down by the river in the years before the Civil War. He wanted a safe place for his family to enjoy themselves.” said Judy. In its lifetime just about every famous person who passed through New Albany appeared on the 3rd floor Opera House including the famed Siamese twins Eng and Chang, P.T.Barnum’s diminutive protege Tom Thumb and his friend, Commodore Foote, Opera star Adelina Patti, Philosopher/Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and self taught former slave turned master musician Blind Tom who was billed as the “Negro piano prodigy.” Not every performer to grace the stage of old Woodward Hall was famous though. The venue attracted countless numbers of minstrel shows, political debates, religious revivals, social lectures and dramatic productions.
The lower 2 levels housed a dry goods / department store well into the 20th century in what was once the largest city in the state before the Civil War. Although Judy is responsible for its current look, it has been used as an antique store since the late 1980s. Along with the city’s reputation as a river community, New Albany also has a rich history as a factory town and will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2013.
z utc posterThe Opera House hosted the first performance of the inflammatory anti-slavery play “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and its location straddling the North-South boundary caused quite a stir in the days leading up to the Civil War. During the “War of the Rebellion”, the building was used as “Hospital No. 9” and soldiers from both sides of the conflict could often be found lying side-by-side within its walls. In April of 1862, the steamer “H.J. Adams” delivered 200 wounded soldiers to the converted Opera House fresh from the killing fields of Shiloh. In these years before sterilization set the standard of hospital care, a wounded soldier sent to Hospital No. 9, as with any hospital North or South of the Mason-Dixon line, might as well have been handed a death sentence. Many a soldier in Hospital No. 9 would write letters telling friends and family that he was on the mend from a minor battle wound one day, only to die unexpectedly the next day from disease.
Judy and the girls that work in the mall feel that some of these performers and soldiers have never left the building. “I never believed in ghosts until I bought this building. Neither did my husband, but after all of the strange things we’ve experienced in this building, We have changed my minds,” Judy Gwinn said. However, she is no longer afraid of being thought of as a crackpot because she is not the only person to witness these unexplained happenings.
z 5c05d88edef32.imageJudy recalls how in 2001, her youngest son David was down in the building’s cellar “fishing” for old bottles in a cistern that he had removed the concrete covering from. “He was laying on his stomach down there alone when he suddenly felt someone tap him on the shoulder” she says, “he looked around expecting to see the source of the poking, but saw that he was still down there alone. Since that time, David does not like to be in the basement by himself.”
Judy recalls one time when she and her sister were walking down the stairway from the second to the first floor when she suddenly lost her balance and began to fall. “Something pulled me back and saved me from falling and serious injury. I shook for several minutes after that one.” says Judy.
img485Spirits of a Civil War soldier and a woman in an old fashioned Antebellum Era dress have been seen lounging around the cafe area by a few folks. “Every once in awhile, we’ll get a psychic coming through here telling us that they see the spirits of several Civil War soldiers around the entire building and sense sadness in the basement area.” says Gwinn.
On one occasion, Judy was down in the cellar with a group of 4 people when the youngest person down there, an 11-year-old girl wandered a few feet away from the group. “We all watched as a bright white orb of light appeared and went right through that little girl.” she says, “I have seen shadows go through walls and felt the tapping on my own shoulder. Whatever it is, I’m not scared of it anymore.”
Judy Gwinn might not be afraid of the ghosts that linger within the walls of Aunt Arties Antique Mall, but others might have a different opinion. Judy confesses that some people have walked in the doors and turned around and walked right back out. She’s seen more than a few people start walking up the stairs only to suddenly stop and walk carefully back down the stairway. When asked about the basement, Judy says, “Oh my, I don’t think we could ever use this area for anything more than storage. Its just too creepy and I’m not even sure that the employees want to come down here.”

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Tim Poynter delivering a presentation at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis.

Update: This article originally ran 10 years ago. Aunt Arties closed its doors on New Years Eve of 2014 and the remaining contents were auctioned off in February of 2015. After Rhonda and I visited the store in the Fall of 2010, we took another trip down with several intuitives, including Tim Poynter and Jill Werner. My decision to rerun this story came after the following facebook post from Tim: “Aunt Arties was once a stop on the underground railroad with a reputation of being haunted by a Lady in blue/gray. When we arrived the spirit of a young soldier started following one of the group around. He was very smitten with Jill and had big puppy dog eyes. I noticed the lady spirit on the stairway overseeing our groups investigation. We spent some time on each floor looking for spirits. Near the end of our visit I noticed several spirits of slaves that had been buried on the property still residing in the basement even after all those years. They has perished from injuries received from their perilous journey to freedom. They were still very afraid of our attention to their being there. I remember being overwhelmed with their fear and mistrust. The connection with spirit often comes with much more than we expect. After understanding that we were not a threat they became more forth-giving of their trip to freedom. Even though they had died, they died as free men. I helped them understand that the only thing holding them there was their own energy and off they went. We that were born to freedom seldom understand it’s true value. Those that restrict the freedom of others don’t understand the mark they leave on their own soul.” Well said, Tim, well said.

Pop Culture, Travel

The World’s Longest Yard sale. (2011)

Chuck & Becky Hodson at the Jordan Motel. Where it all started.

Original publish date:  August 13, 2011  Republished August 8, 2019

The world’s longest yardsale. The name alone is intriguing, right? This reporter just returned from an exhausting three day trip from Cincinnati to Chattanooga spent poking through piles of other people’s discards, with a few antiques and collectibles mixed in. Like driving cross country, everyone should do the world’s longest yardsale at least once in their lifetime.

Rhonda Hunter with colorful slag glass aka “Petrified Jello”.

The event stretches from Hudson Michigan to Gadsden Alabama, a span of 675 miles along highway 127, tracing the route of the old Dixie highway. The official website ( ) describes it as: “Hundreds of thousands of folks join us each year for this fun-filled event, spanning 654 miles and five states. It’s impossible to keep track of how many shoppers and vendors we have, but it’s grown to be the biggest and best event of its kind in the world. You’ll find homeowners selling stuff they’ve accumulated throughout the years as well as professional dealers and vendors. It’s almost impossible for shoppers to cover the entire route in four days, so be prepared to pick up where you leave off next year! You’re going to discover some neat places, interesting people, and quaint stops that you’ll probably want to visit again and again. So pack your camera, sunglasses, a good pair of walking shoes, and plenty of cash- you’re in for the World’s Longest Yardsale!”
The website is correct (despite the conflicting mileage tally) in that it is nearly impossible to traverse the route in four days. I can attest because I tried to do most of it in two. Our little group of four (Me, my wife Rhonda and friends Chuck and Becky Hodson) departed in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday bound for our starting point just below the Queen City in Northern Kentucky. We managed to make it to Cumberland Falls State Park in Jamestown Kentucky that first night and then to Chickamauga battlefield in Southern Tennessee / Northern Georgia that second night. It was exhausting.

Kids along the route riding cardboard boxes down the Hills of Highway 127.

This was my third attempt in four years. You’d think by now I’d have a system, but I’ve learned that systems don’t really work very well for this event. The heat, pushing 100 degrees both days, zaps you and has the undesirable affect of kicking up wicked nighttime storms that destroy vendor’s booths, merchandise and morale. The event always starts the first Thursday of August and lasts through Sunday. So you can be sure it’s gonna be hotter than the Devil’s underpants, traffic will be a factor, parking will be a challenge and hotel rooms along the route will always be booked way ahead of time. But, if you like this kind of thing, you can also be sure it will be fun.
Highway 127 ambles through some of the most beautiful country you’ll ever see featuring quaint historic towns full of Antebellum homes peppered with references to folk heroes like Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Alvin C. York. There are massive horse farms with gleaming white fences enclosing rolling bluegrass hills that surround barns featuring colorful Dutch hex signs or family names adorning the exterior. Not to mention, you’ll find more “See Rock City” and “See Ruby Falls” signs then you can possibly imagine. Whiskey distilleries and tobacco barns are not an uncommon sight as well.

Becky Hodson, Rhonda Hunter & Chuck Hodson deciphering a sign on the 127.

The roadsides are verily dotted with sales booths of every size, style and description. Ranging from the lone seller seated behind a single table with only a few unwanted items on display to entire “tent cities” of 100-or-more vendors tightly packed in farmer’s fields and church parking lots. If I had to describe what you could expect to find on these tables, I’d say clothing, glassware, audio / video, kitchen widgets, books, toys and tools. But if you look hard enough, you can find antiques and collectibles hidden among the bric-a-brac.
There are two trains of thought for this event. You can go out looking for one particular thing and narrow your focus, in which case you’ll save time but probably end up disappointed. Or you can simply go-with-the-flow and let fate rule your search, in which case you’re likely to be richly rewarded. As an example, my neighbor Richai Riggs asked me to search for size 6 boys jeans for her young son Riley, but added, “Make sure the knees aren’t ripped out.” Piece-of-cake I assured her. I’ve since discovered that there are no size 6 boys jeans that do not already have the knees ripped out on this planet (outside of a department store).

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

On the other hand, I stumbled across a tattered old manila envelope from 1962 that contained the first two printer’s proofs of newsletters from the Troy Donahue Fan Club complete with an autographed photo that Troy personally gave to the fan club president. Troy was an international teen heart throb and 1960s Era icon best remembered as Sandra Dee’s costar in “A Summer Place.” Okay, maybe not that exciting, but fun and certainly one of last things I’d ever expect to find on a hillside in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The point is, you never know what you’re going to find until you look for it.
The people you’re bound to encounter along the route help to make the trip more memorable, to be sure. That extends to both sellers and shoppers. Some sellers are on you as soon as you enter the booth: “What do you collect?…Can I help you?…Where ya’ll from?” while others barely take notice that you’ve entered their space. On more than a couple of occasions, the seller I encountered behind the table was asleep! Many sellers embrace the expected “hillbilly” reputation of the sale by bringing along props and oddities like log cabin outhouses and horses that make homemade ice cream by walking on a tread mill, not to mention the “overalls with no shirt” fashion statement seen surprisingly often along the route.

Yes, they really play and dance.

The shoppers come in all shapes, sizes and demeanors. They come with children, neighbors, spouses, friends, pets, and pickin’ partners. Chances are you’ll never guess what they’re looking for, unless you happen to see them make a purchase and even then that doesn’t always make sense. I have witnessed great big burly men purchase glassware and children’s clothes as well as dainty looking women buying auto parts and sporting goods. You just never know.
Part of the fun in shopping the highway 127 sale is just plain people watching. I will share a couple incidents in particular from this year’s sale that you may find as amusing as I did. During one stop, our quartet was shopping a one house setup when an older man (65+ at least) walked up with his obviously much younger bride that looked like she might have migrated from the Philippines. We were in a confined area and it quickly became obvious that she spoke no English. Another shopper, not of our party, was heard to mutter something about a mail-order bride out of earshot of the couple before walking back to their car. Sadly, this older gentleman was sporting one of the worst toupees I’ve ever seen (we’re talking a real hair divit here). He walked a few feet away, picked up a pistol shaped hand held hair dryer and asked the seller, “How much?” The seller responded, “Two bucks.” Hairpiece guy then asked, “Does it work?” and proceeded to find an outlet to plug it into. I have no idea what he was going to use it for, but he bought it. Before you start judging, keep in mind I’ve been fighting a losing battle with hair loss for ten years or more, so no one understands the irony better than I.IMG_4322
At another stop, I watched a nearby seller pick up a framed knick-knack contained in it’s original box and ask the seller, “How much?” The seller hesitated for a moment before saying, “Three dollars.” Then continued, “It was the only thing I got for Christmas this year, so yeah, three bucks.” You can’t make this stuff up and that’s the point. The Highway-127 yardsale must be experienced to be believed. There are so many things I love about regional sales like the highway 38 yard sale, National Road yard sale or the world’s longest yardsale. They enable you the opportunity to get out and experience America, help the local economies of the towns you visit along the way and meet unforgettable characters while driving the roads that made America. I just wish they’d rename this particular event, “The Dixie Highway” sale, sounds so much more…historic.