LIVINGSTON, Ala. (AP) — Alan Brown walked slowly, the pine boards creaking beneath him with each step.
He carried a handheld device the size of a television remote control, in search of a signal.
“If there are fluctuations in electromagnetic field, the lights will go off . . . When it goes to red, you’re really in front of something,” he said.
The light remained green.
Brown, a literature professor at the University of West Alabama, has authored 30 books on paranormal activity.
On Oct. 23, he was conducting a ghost investigation on a covered bridge that spans a duck pond on the UWA campus.
The 88-foot bridge, Brown said, is supposedly haunted by the ghost of the former outlaw sheriff of Sumter County, Steve Renfroe.
“He was basically a scoundrel. He stole money from the county’s coffers and was thrown in his own jail,” Brown said.
Years before that, Renfroe shot and killed two African American men, Caesar Davis and Frank Sledge, according to Brown’s book “Eerie Alabama: Chilling Tales from the Heart of Dixie.”
After numerous escapes from justice, Renfroe, who had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was captured in Enterprise, Mississippi and locked up a final time, Brown said.
On July 13, 1886, a group of men took the jailer’s keys, opened Renfroe’s cell, and brought him to the Sucarnochee River, where they hanged him from a tree, he said.
The bridge was first built across the Sucarnochee River in 1861, relocated five miles away in 1924, then restored and moved to the UWA campus in 1969, according to a brochure from the Sumter County Historical Society.
Since he arrived at the university in 1986, Brown said he has heard students and faculty talk about the legends of the bridge every year.
“Some students have actually seen (Renfroe) on the bridge. Most of them, though, have heard him,” Brown said. “They say that at night as they’re walking alone across the bridge they’ll hear footsteps behind them and they’ll turn around and nobody is there, and that has been going on for a long time.”
Turtles and frogs in the duck pond below may be responsible for some of the strange noises, Brown said.
Several walks across the bridge did not summon the sounds of any mysterious footsteps that night, but a few students passed by on their way to other parts of campus.
Matt Heard, a junior at UWA who heard about the haunting of the bridge from Brown, said other students have reported hearing footsteps.
“They find it really creepy. Me, personally, I haven’t experienced it,” Heard said.
Valerie Burnes, the president of the Sumter Historical Society, teaches historic preservation and likes to take students to the bridge to show them how things used to be built.
She said the bridge is probably one of the most photographed sites on campus.
“It’s just kind of part of the built heritage of the county,” she said.
For the second part of the investigation, Brown attempted another method he uses to detect ghost activity.
He loosened the head of a Maglite and rested it on the side of the bridge.
Then, he began to ask questions for Renfroe and waited for the light to flicker in response.
Is Steve Renfroe the name of the spirit who haunts this bridge?
Do you have any guilt about anything that you have done to hurt people in Sumter County?
Do you think that you were a good sheriff?
“I’ve done it and it’s hit or miss,” Brown said. “Tonight, we’re not getting activity, but tomorrow night, if we came out here, maybe we would.”
People like ghost stories because it’s fun to be scared, Brown said, but it takes a lot to frighten him.
“If we were honest, we would say ghost stories confirm our need to believe in a spiritual dimension to life, that there is something here other than the material world and ghost stories do seem to confirm that.”