Birmingham is no stranger to the unusual or the macabre. Hauntings are around every corner. In this Birmingham Ghost Story we examine the strange happenings that followed The Murder of Father Coyle.
The Magic City is without a doubt one of the south’s supernatural hotbeds with strange stories on every corner. The murder of Father James Coyle and the hauntings that followed his grisly murder are one of Birmingham’s more interesting haunted tales.
Birmingham Ghost Stories: The Murder of Father Coyle
In 1919 Ruth Stephenson wanted to get married. Her father, Edwin Stephenson furiously objected because the man she was to wed was a Puerto Rican wallpaper hanger by the name of Pedro Gussman. Edwin Stephenson claimed to be a Methodist minister, but he had no church. Edwin also was suspected of having ties to the Ku Klux Klan and was known to be an avid reader of anti-Catholic propaganda.
Ruth decided to elope to St. Paul’s Cathedral in downtown Birmingham, the rector at the time was Reverend James Coyle. Ruth and Pedro Gussman were married by Father Coyle and when Edwin Stephenson found out he was sent into a jealous rage. Edwin Stephenson took his gun, walked to the rectory where Father Coyle was on the porch, opened the gate, drew his weapon and fired several shots, killing Father James Coyle. Edwin Stephenson then walked to the Jefferson County Courthouse and turned himself in proclaiming “I have rid Birmingham of that Catholic monster“.
The rectory where Father Coyle’s murder had taken place was thought to have been tainted. A full Catholic exorcism was performed in the hopes of cleansing it, but it was ultimately destroyed when that failed to stop the strange occurrences that began happening after Father Coyle’s murder.
The current rectory was built in late 1922 and is “The James Coyle memorial rectory”. It too suffers from strange “events”. The lights have a tendency to flicker on and off, the doorbell will ring all by itself, the rocking chairs that used to adorn the front porch were many times observed to begin rocking by themselves. Most incredibly, many people say that late at night the figure of a man dressed in white can be seen in the front window of the rectory. Could this man in white be Father Coyle still looking over the site of his own murder on the rectory steps? Perhaps we will never know.
The Birmingham Ghost Walk
Presented by The Birmingham Historic Touring Company, The Birmingham Ghost Walk is filled with dark and interesting tidbits, along with tales of intrigue and woe, pulled from the pages of Birmingham’s history. For 2018 there will be two different tours just to tell it all! These evening, lantern lit tours cover all of the dark and interesting history that began right with the founding of our “city in the midst of the wilderness” and continue right through the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s (although most of the tales pre-date The Great War). Grab a bit of shadowy darkness…and enjoy The Birmingham Ghost Walk.
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