Late nights in the newsroom are a notorious part of working in the newspaper industry. It may be possible that some never clocked out and left the building for good even after departing this life.
Past and present staffers at the Washington County News in Chipley and Holmes County Advertiser in Bonifay have reported hearing unexplainable sounds and disembodied voices, seeing objects move seemingly on their own and the general feeling that someone is looking over their shoulder to make sure they cross their t’s and dot their i’s.
“My first experience was when I first started working there,” said Moe Pujol, a former editor and publisher of Washington County News and former owner of the Holmes County Times-Advertiser.
Pujol said he kept the peculiar noises he heard in the Chipley office to himself at first, writing them off as maybe air in the water lines or the old building settling.
“We would mostly hear it at night. It sounded like a big heavy metal door creaking,” Pujol said. “Because it would only happen at night, we thought someone had broken into the building.”
But there was no prowler to be found.
“The atmosphere would feel very heavy or like something was pressing on you,” Pujol said.
More recent employees of the paper have thought the presence felt in the building might be Earl Sellers, who owned and was the editor of the Washington County News for nearly 40 years from the mid-1920s until he sold the paper in the mid-1960s. Pujol said any residual haunting the building goes back further than when Sellers passed away in 1989.
“We had things going on before Earl passed,” Pujol said. Pujol added that his late wife, Brenda Whitaker Pujol, who worked at the Chipley paper as the advertising director and co-publisher, also heard and felt things when alone in the building.
“My wife was very sensitive to things. She felt like there was something there,” Pujol said.
The paper’s other employees eventually started to discuss the independent, yet similar experiences they were all having with hearing what sounded like a heavy metal door scraping across the floor in the back of the building and feeling like they weren’t alone.
“None of us really discussed it among ourselves, but we came to realize that we were all experiencing the same thing,” Pujol said.
The same can be said about experiences shared by employees in the Bonifay office over the years.
W.D. Williams started the Holmes County Advertiser in 1892. The Times-Advertiser building - now a signature landmark with peach metal siding and red front door - was moved from where it was erected originally in Cerro Gordo to where it now sits on Virginia Avenue after Bonifay became the county seat in 1905.
The Advertiser was run by four generations of Williams’ family until around 1981, all of whom have passed.
Stephanie Smith Cloud, Williams’ great-great-granddaughter, said the family has not noted any paranormal activity in the building over the years.
More recent employees have wondered if former editor Jack Davis has been dutifully keeping watch over the old Advertiser building since he died in a car crash in 1992. Employees have reported hearing disembodied voices, cold spots in the building and objects moved by an unseen force.
It’s highly possible the historical newspaper buildings are prone to settling and drafty, old ductwork. The lingering energy, to those in tune with such a phenomena, feels more like the souls of yesteryear working way past deadline.
None would describe the alleged hauntings as malicious - perhaps curious and familiar.
“It didn’t scare me. As long as it left us alone, we left it alone,” Pujol said. “I would say if there’s some kind of presence, it’s not unfriendly.”
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