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The ghost of Kissie Sykes

Excerpted from “The Ghost Will See You Now: Haunted Hospitals of the South” by Randy Russell, 2014 Permission granted by John F. Blair Publisher, blairpub.com.

Kissie Sykes arrived at Cherry Point Naval Hospital in Havelock late in the summer of 1955. A native of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the wife and mother was dead when she got here, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her.

Kissie’s body was being prepared for burial when a wind wrought havoc across the islands, snatching away her ghost. After lingering over Puerto Rico, Hurricane Connie dropped her off at the Marine Corps air station, then known as Cunningham Field, on the Neuse River. Dressed in white, the ghost of Kissie Sykes walked to the hospital, chattering about the safety of her children all the way.

It is no great surprise that a hurricane carried Kissie to Havelock. The history of coastal North Carolina is defined by hurricanes and sunken ships. The first hurricane in the written record in America occurred in June 1586. It ravaged the Outer Banks, effectively ending Sir Francis Drake’s attempt to support a recently established settlement called the Roanoke Hundred colony.

A second group of English colonists, none of whom had experienced the terrible storm of 1586, was dropped off the next year on Roanoke Island. This second colony managed to disappear on its own, becoming known to history as the Lost Colony.

About 370 years later, a hurricane dropped off Kissie just up the Neuse River from Roanoke Island. After quickly discovering there was nothing the doctors at Cherry Point could do for her, Kissie left the naval hospital in her St. Thomas burial shroud. She wandered among the facilities at Cunningham Field. A large number of families lived in military housing there. A dedicated mother, she visited more than a few homes, always checking in on the children to see that they were free from harm.

Kissie soon made her way to the airstrip, perhaps intent on catching a ride back to St. Thomas. Marine pilots saw her often enough that Kissie’s ghost became a nuisance to aircraft attempting to depart or land. Everyone talked about the bushy-headed ghost in a white dress crisscrossing the airfield day and night. Pilots aborting a landing or takeoff for whatever other reason used Kissie as an excuse.

In an effort to put an end to the distraction, a corpsman from the hospital suggested the ghost be buried. A detail of marines subsequently dug a grave near the airstrip. They asked Kissie to climb into it. She did, and they covered her up. A headstone was purchased and placed over the grave. It reads, “Kissie Sykes, Age 40 Yrs.” Actually, her age was someone’s best guess.

That was, for a time, the end of Kissie. A ghost transplanted from St. Thomas by a hurricane was planted by shovel and dirt.

It was the end of Kissie until the Marine Corps air station expanded and needed to move the grave to enlarge its airstrips. In the way of the new flight path, Kissie’s grave and headstone were relocated to a small cluster of graves in a burial ground not far away.

The relocation disturbed her rest. She felt she might as well keep moving if she wasn’t going to be allowed to rest. Kissie’s ghost returned and is still active at Cherry Point today. More devoted than ever to the welfare of children, she frequently appears when a child is being punished or scolded. She doesn’t like it. And she particularly doesn’t like men who are mean to children, even if it’s for the youngsters’ own good.

Dare to scold a child at Cherry Point and Kissie in her white dress is instantly there. If you’re hollering at the kid, Kissie will slap your face to have you settle down. If the child isn’t yours and you’re a man, Kissie really gets going with a hard slap and a kick or two.

Late at night when all is still and the children are safe in bed in base housing, Kissie drops by. She silently enters children’s bedrooms and leaves. Should a child be awake, Kissie talks to him or her in a soft, lilting Caribbean accident. When the child falls back to sleep, Kissie leaves.

Recent developments at the air station suggest Kissie has become overwhelmed by the increase in population at Cherry Point. At last count, more than 49,000 people live and work there, including active-duty and retired marines, their families and children, and a small civilian work force.

A marine corporal stationed at Cherry Point in 2012 reported a troubling encounter he and his wife experienced in base housing. Up late to watch television after his wife had gone to bed, the corporal heard his name shouted from the bedroom. He rushed in to find his shaken wife sitting up in bed with the blankets pulled to her chin. She was staring at a spot in the room.

When she calmed down, she told the corporal she had seen a man standing in front of the closet, wearing a World War II uniform. The serviceman immediately went to bed, in part because he thought his wife was having an “episode” and needed him there. He woke up an hour later to hear a deep male voice saying, “He’s not a bad boy.” The corporal assumed the ghost was referring to their newly purchased beagle puppy. The puppy, still being housebroken, had been scolded earlier in the day for not making it outside in time. In fact, the corporal had called the puppy a bad boy.

On another occasion, the corporal’s wife went to bed with the beagle asleep on the floor beside her. The apparition of a man in an outdated uniform returned. Upon its disappearance, his wife heard a deep male voice say, “We won’t always be here to protect you.” This occurred the evening of the day the corporal had received transfer orders.

The experience of the young corporal and his wife suggest that Kissie Sykes has recruited other ghosts to help her. This is an exceptionally rare occurrence among known hauntings.

Kissie’s helpmate seems to have affection for pets and is concerned for their welfare. Transported by hurricane, refused help in the hospital, and buried where she doesn’t want to be, Kissie will likely be unable to find peaceful rest for a long time yet, or at least until parents stop yelling at their kids. Her ghostly recruit, who is known to assist in her vigilance in seeing that children are appropriately and gently cared for, would also have you be kind to animals.

Sometimes, good advice from the afterlife is best delivered as a slap on the face, because some people don’t know how to listen.

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