Ghosts Of Oatland Island

Posted on October 28, 2020

An 1882 oil painting of a will-o'-the-wisp by Arnold Böcklin.

Oatland Island is part of a chain of landmasses called the Sea Islands that pepper the Southeastern Coast of the United States. There are over 100 of these barrier islands. Most are located between Santee and St. Johns Rivers along the coast of the US states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. And most, due to their history is littered with a specter or two… Hauntings that predate European Settlements, hauntings that encompasses legendary salve revolts, hauntings that are linked to pirates, brigands, and maritime madmen. What makes the ghosts of Oatland Island so unique, among this macabre of menagerie, is that its haunts and terror-soaked tales are fairly modern… most chained to horrors of WWII and off-the-book medial experiments.

The History of the Sea Islands

map of the Sea Islands
Map of the Sea Island. Source: Wikimedia

 

Settled by autochthonous civilizations over thousands of years, the islands were chosen by Spanish pilgrims as sites for the founding of colonial missions. Historically the Spanish ruled, turned, influenced, manipulated the Guale and Mocama chiefdoms by ascertaining their Christian believes in the area and all but whipping out native pagan traditions.

The mission system closed shop under the battering pressure of repeated raids by the English in South Carolina, Pirate attacks, and Indian incursions. The Crown in England had crafted an alliance between their forces, and those of pirates and local Indians; in essence, the Brits’ were bankrolling all the ruffians making mince-meat of the missionaries. 

The Spanish, sick and tired of burying priests, seceded most of the land to the Brits. After the 18th-century European-American foundation of Georgia and Florida, farmers bought and enslaved Africans for labor. Many were used to work the labor-intensive plantations on the Sea Islands. A great deal of the wealth generated in the area financed the Crown’s development of the 13 Colonies… once the Revolutionary War ended, this economical system continued. 

During the American Civil War, the Union Navy and the Union Army soon invaded the islands. The white planter families had fled to other locations on the continent, oftentimes abandoning their slaves. The slaves chiefly ran their own lives throughout this period. They crafted a cohesive and were divorced from the troubles plaguing the mainland. “Polite society” avoided the island afraid of the “negroes” and the tales – most fake and famed by crafty slaves – of rampant malaria in the area. 

After President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was validated on January 1, 1863, more than 5,000 slaves on Union-occupied islands obtained their freedom. 

History Of Oatland Island

That’s part one… Now, let’s talk about Oatland Island.

From the 18th to mid 19th centuries, Oatland Island was part of a burgeoning cotton hacienda, and the archipelago was cleared and used as farmland. The ranch home was not on the island.

The land was privately owned until 1927, when it was acquired by the Order of Railway Conductors, as the place of a new retirement center for the union’s members. The Conductors’ Lodge opened shop in 1927 and had enough room to house 66 residents… It never took off. The dwindling numbers of residents, the overwhelming cost of making the place function properly, and the constant barrage of hurricanes made it a nightmare to run. In 1940 it had no other choice but to close its doors. 

The conductors sold the property to the US Public Health Service in 1941… Here’s where things get interesting.

The home was transformed overnight into a research hospital for women and children with syphilis and other sexually transferred diseases. For over 5 years, until 1945, when penicillin became readily available, all manner of madness and rumors were whispered through the grapevine of what happened within the hospital’s walls; none too heartwarming.

The hospital finally closed and the few patients it had transferred elsewhere. In 1946, the ownership hanged hands, and the deed was filed inside the cabinet of a different branch of the Public Health Service, the Malaria Control in War Areas (MCWA) division.

The building was converted into their Technical Development Laboratory. A year later, malaria wasn’t enough so the MCWA broadened its scope and became the agency we nowadays know as the CDC (Center for Disease Control). 

Logo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Logo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Source: Wikimedia

 

At the Oatland lab, the CDC examined insect and airborne infections, mosquito control, and the use of DDT as a pesticide. For more than 25 years the CDC conducted all manner of madcap experiments on Oatland. In 1973, the CDC moved its labs to its headquarters in Atlanta… And immediately afterward what did the building transform into… A SCHOOL. From slave farm to old folks home, to syphilis hospital, to secret government lab’, to a SCHOOL. Makes perfect sense. Is it any wonder you’re reading an article called Ghosts of Oatland Island?

It stayed a school, part of the area’s educational mission for over 30 years. In 2004, the property was once more transferred. It became a Wildlife Center and as of 2009 one of the area’s most prestigious veterinary clinic. 

Ghosts of Oatland Island 

One of the most famous accounts of the ghosts of Oatland Island can be found in Beth Dolgner’s Georgia Spirits and Specters.  Since the book came out researchers of the subject have basically flooded the wildlife center and set up shop there. The Ghosts of Oatland Island are one of the most pernicious and widespread legends in the Savanah territory. The place over time has developed a cult following, mostly of haunted house enthusiasts, on account of its ghost riddled hospital/plantation/school.  

Ever since the strange happenings of WWII and the bizarre experiments conducted there by the CDC and before that MWCA and before that syphilis research/hospital board, the island has been plagued by phantoms and all manner bogeymen. Some of the experiments have been documented, others meanwhile were either lost to time or swept under the rug by the federal stooges of the moment. Oversight in those days was a pipedream and the perils of such a place as this were widely known by never discussed in polite society; too many, it was a necessary evil. During its period as a school, kids would joke that you could hear the sound of shrieks and bedeviled moans coming from certain walls. The history of the place is one swallowed up in all manner of awfulness… Slaves, patients, lab-rats and, the clincher, maybe even pirates and a murder or two. The islands have a sketchy history, one whose detail are lost to time.

An 1882 oil painting of a will-o'-the-wisp by Arnold Böcklin.
An 1882 oil painting of a will-o’-the-wisp by Arnold Böcklin. Source: Wikimedia

 

Visitors and tour guides have constantly reported all manner of supernatural shenanigans in the area. One of the most common events in the main structure – the old rail conductors home – are will-o’-the-wisp, will-o’-wisp, or ignis fatuus. This phenomenon is known in the fringe science community as atmospheric ghost light. They are typically seen by travelers at night, particularly over bogs, swamps, or marshes. The phenom is associated with English folk belief and much European folklore. In ancient tales these orbs are either restless spirits or fairies; mind you, evil, cunning, fairies that want to lead you astray. In Oatland Island there are supposedly orbs that flicker all over the place… large… small… bright… dull… multicolor. They come in all shapes and sizes. The main hotspot for them is the facility. There are dozens of videos online of the phenomenon.

Another rather widespread supernatural event is Electronic Voice Phenomena, or “EVP”. Research within the structure of this phenomenon has unearthed: white noise, static, spiritual voices, and spooky undecipherable messages from the other side.  

Due to the appearance of these events, hundreds of dark tourism enthusiasts have decided to play ghost hunter. The area is constantly besieged by would-be ghostbusters. Scores of them with all manner of equipment; cameras, audio recording devices, video hardware, laptops, and the occasional tin foil hat. YouTube, Facebook, and dozens of blogs on the net are floated with transcripts of the many supernatural phenomena experienced there. Thousands of ghost pictures and ghost videos. Innumerable recordings that have managed to capture all manner of scary noises and unexplained sounds… even conversations and wild savage screams. 

A scroll through YouTube’s library of videos will unearth multiple scenes of Blair Witch-like horseplay. Some too granny to make out, others in HD glory. Without a doubt, the island’s that pepper the East Coast of the United States are inundated with phantasmagoria and thousand of ghosts. Places beseeched by the dead, by tragedies, by sunken ships, slaves in panic, and by gruesome government experiments.

For more spooky tales check out our blog.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Islands

https://spwww.sccpss.com/schools/oatland/Pages/History.aspx