A ghost tour experience in Lawrenceville, the oldest city in metro Atlanta
If you’re hoping to avoid a couch-bound Halloween season scanning streaming platforms for scary movies, here’s an option for local, seasonal spooky exploring just outside of town. The Aurora Theatre offers Lawrenceville Ghost Tours to bring you “hauntings, history and horror” through October 31st, and “City Lights” producer Summer Evans was brave enough to take one.
On Evans’ tour of the Lawrenceville town center, a charismatic tour guide in traditional Mexican regalia, holding a lantern, gathers her visitors. “La Loca Lopez Perez,” played by Lorena Morales, is searching for her handsome husband, “Capitán Smith.” The tour explorers are asked to watch Smith on their 90 minute tour of Historic Lawrenceville under the night sky.
The tour provides a bit of history on Lawrenceville, which got its name from Captain James Lawrence, one of the earliest officers in the U.S. Navy and once considered one of its bravest. It’s unproven whether Lawrence ever actually set foot in Gwinnett County, but his reputation served him well enough to earn the honor of the town’s name. He commanded the U.S.S. Chesapeake during the battle of 1812. After being shot in battle, Lawrence was dying and uttered five famous last words: “Don’t give up the ship,” now known as a popular naval battle cry.
Perez brings her caravan through Lawrenceville’s town square, including what the guide calls “Honest Alley.” Several local shops lining the square contribute their stories of paranormal sightings and strange occurrences. One such story comes from the shoemaker’s shop, whose Santa display mysteriously disappeared at Christmastime — not once, but several times. A frustrated shopkeeper’s surveillance footage is reported to have shown, finally, what appeared to be the Santa walking itself out of the shop.
The next stop brings the tour to the Old Lawrenceville Jail, built in 1832, which no longer hosts inmates — it sits boarded up with a large padlock on the metal door. Perez invites her guests inside, warning that some observers still report strange scratching sounds coming from the cells. Guides share the historic jail’s sad tale of a failed escapee, an enslaved man named Elleck and his wife Betsy.
“On October 10, 1848, Elleck was with his beautiful wife Betsy. They were in the house. They were going to have dinner when they hear the angry, furious voice of their master. So, Elleck and Betsy knew that he had been in the Honest Alley drinking the demon liquor. And they knew that he was furious and angry and so they prepared and braced themselves,” said Perez.
As the story goes, the master storms in drunkenly and he tries to take Betsy for himself. Elleck intervenes and tells him “no, this is not going to happen.” Infuriated, the master grabs his sword and begins to chase Elleck throughout the property. “Elleck goes running, trying to get to his loft and as he closes the door, the wooden door, the master grabs and pulls it down. And they’re fighting and they’re struggling. We do not know how it happened, but we believe that the master slipped and fell to the ground and instantly died,” continues Perez.
Now, instead of running for his life and disappearing after this incident, Elleck goes to the sheriff’s office and tries to tell them what happened — that this was all in self-defense.
Having the status of a slave, the sheriff didn’t believe that this was self-defense. Now, Elleck was one of two slaves to ever go to trial in the courthouse in Lawrenceville, but the odds were not in his favor, and justice was not served that day. The courts found him to be guilty and he was sentenced to be hanged. Elleck was devastated that he was never going to see his beloved Betsy again. As an attempt to flee, he started scraping away at the cell walls with a piece of metal, but his plan was foiled.
“There was a woman passing by late at night and she heard the scratching. The first thing she did was tell the sheriff what was going on here in the jail. The sheriff comes, opens the jail, and is furious of what is going on. He’s so angry, he chains Elleck from the feet and the hands for three days and three nights. No food. No water. No sleep for three days … three nights,” said Perez.
On November 11, 1848, Elleck was hanged.
The ghost tour concludes at the Aurora Theatre’s Lawrenceville Arts Center, having successfully spooked its brave explorers, including our producer. Daring souls curious about this unique experience can find more information, and plan their visit, at www.auroratheatre.com/productions-and-programs/view/lawrenceville-ga-ghost-tours
Here are the three tours offered by Aurora Theatre:
Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Friday through Sunday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.