A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Sloss Furnace (or Busting Ghosts In Your Spare Time Without Going To Jail) 

By Terrell Manasco

A black screen, then grainy, green-tinted video footage and a voice on the tape speaking to someone off camera. The words are faint, unintelligible. We are moving past a chain link fence in front of a cinder block wall. The camera jerks left and we are peering down a long set of steps,  where a blondish young man in glasses and a hoodie grips a flashlight as he descends into what looks like the bowels of an old factory. “We’re going down…into the tunnel,” the cameraman intones, in a voice that conveys both vague aloofness and nervous anticipation. The man in the hoodie skulks past an old brick wall toward a brightly lit room with a stairwell. The camera swings left, revealing two metal folding chairs sitting on a landing. The footage continues for several minutes, documenting four young men as they explore the tunnels downstairs. When they return to this spot in a few moments, one folding chair will be missing. 

Don’t mind us, we’re just here for the ghosts.

The 2013 Youtube video was recorded at Sloss Furnace, a site notorious for mysterious figures, noises, and other unusual occurrences. Kevan Walden, the young man in the hoodie, is still hunting ghosts, poltergeists, and things that go bump in the night, now as a paranormal investigator on a web series called Alabama’s Most Haunted.

Today, however, we are at one of Kevan’s favorite haunts, an area populated with old crumbling buildings called Old Dora. Kevan takes a seat on the concrete steps beneath the door frame leading to a dilapidated shell of a church, the arms of his black leather jacket resting on blue denim covered knees. An icy, scimitar wind sweeps relentlessly across the road like a horde of frost giants, and he brushes his hair from his eyes. The landscape has a vague, apocalyptic feel, reminiscent of a certain old Twilight Zone episode, and one almost expects to see a bespectacled Burgess Meredith hunched among the rubble of stone and concrete with a stack of books.
 
As a young boy growing up in Empire, Kevan loved to go exploring. “Around us there was nothing but woods,” Kevan says. “I spent most of my time outside, exploring or riding my bike through the woods.” 

The genesis of Alabama’s Most Haunted was in 2007, when Kevan, then a Dora senior, had to give a class report. “They wanted a visual report, so me and three other guys said let’s go find us a spooky place and some ghosts.”

Armed with a Sony HandyCam, digital cameras and audio recorders, Kevan and his buddies headed for Tuscaloosa. “The first place we ever went to was the old Bryce mental institution,” he says. “We drove past all the No Trespassing signs, pulled up to the front door, got four steps inside… and then a state trooper showed up and detained us for twenty minutes. He told us we were gonna spend the night in jail for trespassing.”

Fortunately, no one saw the inside of a jail cell that night. “I guess he just noticed how scared we were,” Kevan shrugs. “After twenty minutes he was like, ‘I’ll tell you what; you guys get your stuff, get back in your car, go back to Walker County, and we’ll forget this whole thing ever happened.’” 

They hastily packed up their gear and left. “We were pretty shook up at the idea of spending the night in jail,” Kevan admits, “but we still just had that urge to go somewhere.” Somewhere turned out to be Sloss Furnace. “The gates were open so we drove inside,” Kevan says. “There was a security guard there, and he asked us what we were doing. We had all this film equipment so we were like, ‘Well, we were wondering if maybe we could ghost hunt.’ He kinda looked side to side, gave us a little smile, and said, ‘Tell you what, come on in and I’ll give you a free tour. I’m gonna be here till around midnight. You guys can keep investigating, do whatever you wanna do, but if you’re not out of here by midnight, you’ll be here all night.’”

When the guys later checked their recordings, they found they had captured some rather unusual activity. “Probably the craziest thing was one of the guys with us, Alex, had a little audio recorder,” Kevan explains. “There was this big giant pipe and he said, ‘Hey man, if you died in this pipe, let me know.’ He stuck his arm up inside this pipe, waited a bit, pulled it out, and turned the recorder off. When you listen to the audio, right after he puts his arm in the pipe, this voice says, (whispers) ‘Creepy.’” 

Exhilarated by their experience, the group stepped up their nocturnal excursions. “We started going to cemeteries in the middle of the night, or we’d go to Old Dora,” Kevan says. “We quickly ran out of haunted places in Walker County, so we got online and started looking them up. The main thing we wanted to do was check this out, document it for ourselves, and see if there’s any truth to the ghost stories. We’d load up in the car every Friday and Saturday night and drive out to places like Little Vine Cemetery in Empire. It definitely had some stuff going on there. We stayed the night at a Victorian house in Adamsville. We went back to Sloss Furnace several times.”

In 2013, the guys began tossing around an idea to take their ghost-busting expeditions a step further. “At the time it was called The Paranormal Project,” Kevan says. “The idea was to go to these supposedly haunted buildings and tell the history behind them. We’d get some eyewitnesses to come in, film some episodes, and get some sponsors.”

That concept evolved into Alabama’s Most Haunted. One of the first sites Kevan’s crew visited was the Drish Mansion in Tuscaloosa. “I saw a website once that claimed the Drish Mansion was one of the most haunted places in Alabama,” Kevan says. “After the nights we spent there, I can verify that. We hope to release it in April on Youtube.”

In 2016, Kevan and his wife Kayla were faced with a medical decision regarding their two year old daughter Claire. “She was born with an extremely rare condition called heterotaxy,” he explains. “Only four in one million babies are born with it. Basically it messes with your insides and it leads to heart problems. She was also born with two left atriums. One of the veins going to the left side of her heart had wrapped around the right side, causing her heart to enlarge. They told us she can live with this, but by the time she reaches her late teens or early twenties, she will go into heart failure.”

Doctors gave the Waldens’ one option—open heart surgery. “It was one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make, but we knew it needed to be done,” Kevan says. 

On January 9, 2017, Claire underwent open-heart surgery at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. She is now at home and doing well. “She tackled it like a warrior,” Kevan says. “The doctors and nurses were shocked at how well she did afterward. They told us it will be the only heart surgery she will need. It was definitely one of the hardest times in our lives.”  

Ten years after the state trooper encounter, Kevan and the AMH crew returned to the old Bryce Hospital. “All the signs were gone,” Kevan says. “Is it creepy? Oh yeah, it’s straight out of a horror movie. My wife and I were going up to the top floor, and across the hall there was a loud boom! like somebody threw something against a wall. We went in another room and as soon as you walked in, there was a…change. It was colder, it felt like the air pressure changed in the room. It felt like a heaviness sitting on your shoulders.” 

Although he has remained open-minded, Kevan admits he is now more inclined to believe there is something otherworldly out there. “When we first starting ghost-hunting, I was kind of fifty-fifty,” he says. “In my time of investigating and doing some shows, I definitely believe there’s some spirits with us.”

At the end of the day, Kevan says he’s learned not to take this too seriously. “One thing I’ve learned; you have the most fun with your crew when you’re driving down the road in the middle of nowhere and you start to question, ‘If I was to scream out here, would anybody hear me?” To me, that’s when it’s fun.”

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?

Alabama’s Most Haunted.

Hopefully that won’t ever be necessary. 78

The AMH crew plans to film an episode soon in Union Springs. You can follow their ghost-busting adventures on their Facebook page, Alabama’s Most Haunted 
https://www.facebook.com/ AlabamasMostHaunted/

and on Kevan Walden’s Youtube page at 
https://www.youtube.com/user/ KevanWalden

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