The South Mississippi Charity Hospital, now in ruins, overlooks a new housing subdivision at the end of Buchanan Street. Some say its hallways are still haunted.
There is a two-fold Silence--–sea and shore–
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o’ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless; his name’s “No More.”
–Edgar Allen Poe, “Sonnet––Silence”
Nothing dwells in the scorched husk of South Mississippi Charity Hospital on Buchanan Street in North Laurel. Overlooking a new housing subdivision, it’s a contrasting labyrinth of filth whose walls are intermittently torn away and burned.
According to Laurel legend, ghosts may still walk its hallways, or what remains of them.
Scrawled along many of its surfaces are what one might call hieroglyphics, in a sense. They’re nonsensical ramblings, words, numbers, curses and vague statements.
“We are in here, welcome,” one scribbling reads. Several arrows point to what was once a room containing a water heater and other plumbing.
A few feet farther, the room is pitch black. In fact, even on a bright day, the whole world seems a shade darker at the hospital. Its parking lot, its rooms and its adjacent woods are dim and quiet.
The South Mississippi Charity Hospital burned down on May 19, 2004, about 15 years after its closure. The site had been vandalized in an earlier arson attempt on April 4, and it was this second fire that left it in its current ruined state.
The Laurel Fire Department responded to a “huge” blaze, according to a 2004 article in the Laurel Leader-Call. According to Steve Russell, the LFD fire chief at the time, the building’s insides were engulfed in flames that radiated an eerie glow.
The article states the following: “The hospital, founded in 1917, has been closed for decades and has been the home for transients, drug dealers, and the occasional group of teenagers wanting to scare their girlfriends with ghost stories.”
No one has come forward to claim the act of arson.
Information on the hospital, its patients and its staff is often elusive. Not much can be verified except through its records, many of which were lost. According to Susan Blakeney, resident genealogist at the Laurel-Jones County Library, the records have been handed over to the Mississippi Board of Nursing in Jackson.
A deep Google dig of the location reveals relatively little; several photography blog posts from urban explorers appear. Sometimes obituaries appear, showing that the deceased once worked at South Mississippi Charity Hospital. Eventually, the reader might stumble upon a thread about a woman named Emma Windham. Like other pieces of information online — the numerous whisperings of ghosts stalking unaware intruders —Windham’s story only adds to the building’s mystery. The poster confirmed the tale in a separate post from 1999.
“[My great aunt Emma Windham] attended nursing school at the old Charity Hospital in Laurel, Jones County, Mississippi, where she continued to work as a nurse after completing her credentials. During a surgical procedure, she accidentally gave a young girl too much anesthetic and the child died. Emma was overwrought and reportedly killed herself. She was a young woman and had never married.”
According to the writer, the Board of Nursing said Windham died at the hospital Dec. 18, 1922.
Founded in 1917, the hospital served 125 beds at its peak. According to a Leader-Call article published in April of 2004, one month before the location’s destruction, a school of nursing was established at the hospital in 1921, meaning the Windham story checks out. More than 700 successful nurses had graduated by 1957.
In 1989, the hospital finally closed, making it home to the aforementioned transients and drug dealers. There’d been rumor that in this period, local police recruits were made to go inside the place and often reported an unnerving feeling of being watched.
Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox said he once entered the building before it burned down.
“You know how it feels when something brushes against your arm?” he said. “I never went above the first floor. I might have been spooked. It felt like something was brushing up against your arm.”
The darkness, Cox said, was abnormal.
“Inside it was so dark, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face,” he said.
Cox only entered the building once before it burned.
“The safest thing now,” he said, “would be to stay away from it.”
Before its time had ended, its charity status had given it something of a reputation, as indicated in previous Leader-Call articles. The hospital was spending about $64 per patient per day, which was half the normal expenditure of private hospitals. Even though its team of doctors reportedly gave good care, the building needed large-scale renovations and eventually received them to the tune of $285,000 from the state in 1957. Though it underwent several monetary revivals by way of state aid, the hospital closed three months after Gov. Ray Mabus vetoed a bill that would pay for it to stay open.
“Neighbors in the area [of dilapidated structures] have a right to live in a safe area,” former Laurel Councilman Manuel Jones said in 2005. “Property owners need to take responsibility and clean up their property. We need to send a clear message to everyone.”
The city of Laurel decided to clean up the site that year. The council held hearings on two properties identified by the Inspection and Maintenance Department as “unkempt and unclean property. Building inspection officials recommended that the problem structures be demolished.
Defiant of this, the ruins still stand atop the hill.
It’s perhaps the elusiveness of its history that gives the hospital life in the minds of the public. Blakeney, who has long sought information on the hospital in her role as genealogist, said the site is subject to paranormal investigations, even after its burning.
These decades later, tourists of the unknown can walk up the hill, stand amid the destruction and observe its silence.