The haunting of 201 Main Ave. continues

Helen Sturgeon

Image: “This picture is of my grandfather, Charles Otis York, his brother Horatio York, sister Clara York and Horatio's future wife Eva Otte. The picture was taken in front of the house. Notice the image of the little boy in the far right upstairs window. This would have been Albert Glendor York, brother to Otis and Horatio, who had passed away approximately 10 – 12 years before this photo was taken.” David York (picture left at the house by a stranger)

CULLMAN – There are some places on this earth that seem to be more conducive to “paranormal” activity than others. For instance, the famous Winchester House, located in San Jose, California, once the home of Sarah Winchester, the widow of the gun manufacturer, William Wirt Winchester. The house, built helter skelter with no master plan, was constructed in 1884, and is said to be haunted. Sarah Winchester was one of the people who made such claims. She thought the ghosts to be people who were killed by her husband’s invention, the Winchester rifle. The legend goes that the house was under constant construction without interruption, day and night, until her death on Sept. 5, 1922. At that time, construction immediately came to an abrupt halt.   

According to Wikipedia, following her husband's death from tuberculosis in 1881, Sarah Winchester inherited more than $20.5 million. “She also received nearly 50 percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day, equivalent to about $23,000 a day in 2013. These inheritances gave her a tremendous amount of wealth which she used to fund the ongoing construction.

“Tabloids from the time claimed that at some point after her infant daughter and husband's deaths, a Boston medium told her, while supposedly channeling her late husband, that she should leave her home in New Haven and travel west, where she must continuously build a home for herself and the spirits of people who had fallen victim to Winchester rifles. Sarah Winchester left New Haven and headed for California. Though it is possible she was simply seeking a change of location and a hobby during her lengthy depression, other sources claim that Sarah Winchester came to believe her family and fortune were haunted by ghosts, and that only by moving west and continuously building them a house could she appease these spirits.”

Although not nearly as famous, or infamous, as the Winchester mansion, Cullman, too, has its ghosts, and some of them have been caught on camera – more than once.

This story has been told previously, but what you might not know is what has happened since the original telling three years ago…

When local realtor, Helen Sturgeon, returned to 201 Main Ave. NW after lunch one day, there was a box of photos on the counter, left there by a stranger who failed to leave a name or contact information. Sturgeon told the story three years ago, but this is what happened afterward.

A family by the name of York contacted Sturgeon to make sure that the house in the paper was the same house that at one time belonged to them. David York made the call, telling Sturgeon that he could identify some of the people in the pictures in the box the stranger left because they were his ancestors.

In an email from David York, the following information was given to Sturgeon.

“My great-grandfather, Charles L. (C.L.) York, was Cullman's first Standard Oil distributor, and built the house at 201 Main sometime in the 1880s. He was a Cullman city councilman, and his brother A.J. York was sheriff. He was married to Mollie Brunner York.” 

David York’s information further revealed that C.L. and Mollie York had six children.

“Charles Otis York was my grandfather, Horatio York, Clara York and Albert Glendor York.”

According to York family history, Albert Glendor York died as a child.

“I contend that he is the child seen in (recent) pictures,” David York wrote in an email.

There was also a set of twins, Earl and Pearl, who only lived two or three days after their births.

“All except Horatio and Clara are buried in the Cullman City Cemetery,” wrote David York.

“My father, Charles O. York, Jr. was born in the upstairs front bedroom of 201 Main, and is seen today in the picture with me and my mother (Dorothy York) taken on the 201 Main front porch in 2014.”

After receiving the box of photos and, more importantly, after speaking with the Yorks, Sturgeon decided to contact some clients near Hartselle to whom she had recently sold a house.  The brothers had related to her that they studied such houses and that they had equipment which might prove useful in determining, one way or another, if her house/office was really haunted, as she had come to believe because of strange things that occurred on a regular basis within its walls. Unexplainable things like very definite footsteps, a glimpse of a floating female figure on a staircase and unexplained electrical glitches, like lights and printers going off and back on again, when no one was even near them.

She invited a friend, Phillip Roberts, a railroad employee who lives near the Cullman/Morgan County line, to be present when the paranormal investigators came to visit. The four climbed down the basement stairs to a spot that has been previously walled up for some reason, perhaps during the final days of the Civil War.

On the fourth from the bottom stair, one of the investigators placed a normal mag flashlight, turned to the off position. With equipment running, they began to ask questions, addressing them to the “other side.”

“It took about 15 minutes before anything happened, but he kept asking the same questions over and over,” said Roberts. “Suddenly, after he asked if anyone was there for the dozenth time, the flashlight blinked on as he had previously instructed. All present were amazed, as no one had gone anywhere near the stairs where the now burning flashlight was placed.”

Again, patiently, the man began asking questions. They ascertained by the flashlight’s going on and off on command the presence was female, that she was about 13 at the time of her death, that she had been forced into prostitution in the house and that she was probably murdered.

On a more ominous note, they learned from the presence that she was not alone in the house, and that there was another, malevolent spirit walking the halls of Sturgeon’s home/office.

“The light kept turning on and off when the investigator would indicate the correct answer,” said Sturgeon.

“It took place over a period of about 45 minutes,” said Roberts. “I was not ever scared but was mostly curious and amazed.”

Later, Roberts conducted some experiments of his own with the same flashlight, taking it with him in his truck and asking questions aloud.

“It never, ever blinked or anything like it did in the basement, so that ruled out a short in the wiring,” he said firmly.

About a year later, Sturgeon, Roberts and one of Sturgeon’s employees tried again to reach the spirit that Sturgeon had started to refer to as Lizzy.

The results surprised them. Lizzy never responded to Helen’s voice, but a newly purchased mag flashlight turned on and off again in response to Roberts’ voice and questions. It was Lizzy again, and she told them much the same thing as she had the first time.

“I never felt threatened, but it was like ‘Whoa! We just did something!’” recalled Roberts.

In the summer of 2014, David York and his parents contacted Helen in response to her plea for more information. Not only were they able to shed some light on the history of the house, since David York’s father was born upstairs, but they also helped to identify some of the people pictured in the box left by the stranger. They were distant ancestors of the Yorks.

One of the strange phenomena surrounding the mysterious house is the “people in the windows.” Skeptics might want to try explaining them away as reflections of something across the street, but those who have a feeling for things that go bump in the night see clear reflections of people, their period dress and in some cases, a dog.

You can judge for yourself….do you believe?


Editor's Note: We created a photo gallery on Facebook so that we can share all of the photos we received for this story. Look for it here:


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