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Published July 28, 2012

Ghost Hunt! Crybaby Lane Sliced Open

For years I’ve wondered over the local mystery of downtown Raleigh’s local legend: Crybaby Lane and the remnants of the burned down Catholic orphanage. Many people, it seems, have heard the ghostly stories surrounding the old orphanage. In fact, my own parents used to explore the husks of the buildings before they were torn down in the 1970’s. Yet even with their directions and the help of the internet, I spent hours wandering around Avent Ferry, Dorthea Dix, and Nazareth before finally, after several tries, finding and undertaking a ghost hunt of the legendary Crybaby Lane of Raleigh.

Background

The orphanage as it appeared circa1930
The orphanage as it appeared circa 1930

Why is the cornerstone and remnants of this orphanage so difficult to find? Searching online, I found several posts about the orphanage and rumored hauntings, but no one seemed to know exactly where this place was. The mystery of the location makes this local legend even more enticing to ghost hunters and curious urban explorers. Although my parents had been there in their youth, all they could tell me was that it was located across from Dorthea Dix, and that part of the Crybaby Lane’s story involved escaped patients raiding the orphanage in the dead of night.

So I spent hours circling Dix, looking for some sign of the remains, to no avail. Even my Grandmother, who’s father attended the orphanage for school, could not tell me how to find where it used to stand, as the street names have changed over time. Asking around on local urban explorer websites still left my trail cold. Many people have heard of the ghostly tale, but very few seem to know how to find the cornerstone that’s rumored to still sit in an empty field.

But on the night of my 30th birthday, we finally found it. It was like walking in on a legend come to life. Raleigh has very few truly eerie myths, so the tale of Crybaby Lane is especially potent to our supernatural enthusiasts.

 

Raleigh orphanage and Catholic Dioceses circa 1960. The greatly expanded orphanage building is pictured in the top right of this photograph.

 

The Myth

There are a few stories regarding the old Catholic Orphanage on Crybaby Lane, and much like the location of the remaining cornerstone, the tales are twisted and shrouded in a bit of mystery, myth, and history. A few things seem to be factual. There was a fire in 1958, and there is rumor of another fire in 1903, which seems to be backed up by several sources. Local mythos tells us that children were caught in the flames, and that escapees from the nearby Dorthea Dix hospital, whose silhouette can be seen just across the field, crept across the open space that night and ran amok through the halls, lighting fires and dashing children’s brains against the walls with broken broom handles.

RELATED: Raleigh Underground: An Abandoned Mall Beneath Our Feet.

People who lived near the orphanage once it was abandoned started complaining of the smell of sulfur in the air, years after the fires had stopped burning. There’s tale of a gatekeeper who guards the entrance to Crybaby Lane, a shadowed figure in the nearby woods. Still other people complained of hearing children’s screams or wailing infants inside the hollow buildings. Thus the ghost stories of the old Catholic Orphanage were born.

Though I’ve sought the barren grounds of the orphanage many times, when I finally stepped onto Crybaby Lane, there was no doubt that this was the field I’d been searching for all these years. We’ve found many places that we thought could be the sought-after land, but it always turned out to be wrong.

The secret passage is Bilyeu Street, right off Western Boulevard. Walk to the end of Bilyeu, until it becomes gravel. It dead ends at a thin stretch of woods with a very obvious, but small, trail. That trail is Crybaby Lane, and it opens up into a wide field with ancient oaks looming like giant groundskeepers. As soon as the path becomes the field, your feet hit the legendary cornerstone of the old, haunted Catholic Orphanage.

 

Exploring

If you explore further into the field, you’ll find overgrown sidewalks and roads that lead to no where, proof that this area was once used but has been ignored for years. You’ll also see a “main road” that seems new that cuts across the area, as it seems North Carolina State University has bought this land for its Centennial Campus. If you keep going, you’ll run into Dorthea Dix. There’s a small building that seems abandoned visible from the field entrance. There are also old fire hydrants and pieces of remnant concrete from an old building, echoes of a forgotten history.

 

Is this all that remains of the original orphanage buildings?
Is this all that remains of the original orphanage buildings?
A large majestic oak tree silently stands guard on the grounds of the orphanage.
A large majestic oak tree silently stands guard on the grounds of the orphanage.

The Ghost Hunt

We returned a week later, armed with ghost-hunting materials. We took photos and film, recorded EVP, and checked for cold spots with a walking thermometer. Night vision goggles revealed many deer. Now, while not many spectacular things occurred that night, there were a couple of idiosyncrasies.

  • All of our photos came out clear and average, showing no paranormal activity with the exception of a few streamers. One photo, however, showed the empty field scattered with what appear as dust particles. However, none of the other pictures show such particles. Could these orbs be a collection of spirits, still “living” in the place that was once their home, or hovering above the land that serves as their grave?
  • We also took temperature readings. They maintained a steady 75 degrees or so, but suddenly dropped into the 50’s as we crossed a particular area. None of us could feel a temperature change, but the reader insisted it was at least 20 degrees colder any time we crossed that one spot.
  • We also did a Oujia reading. While Oujia boards are highly suspect and open to interpretation, the board seemed to be deeply theological, rambling on about subjects like God and the Trinity. Interesting topics to creep up during an exploration of a place that historically spent decades indoctrinating youth with similar dogma.
RELATED: Guide to Ghost Hunting Equipment and Paranormal Precautions.
We did manage to capture some vertical streamers on the orphanage grounds.
Additional streamers, this time horizontal, captured on the orphanage grounds.
We recorded significant temperature shifts only detectable by instrumentation.

Conclusions

Finding the cornerstone of the old Catholic Orphanage is a fascinating piece of history, and it’s honestly quite spooky to wander the empty field, beneath the looming, lumpy oaks, finding overgrown and abandoned sidewalks where children used to roam. Raleigh has very few legends, so urban explorers, seekers of the supernatural, and historians alike will appreciate this slice of our city’s history. I know many of you have been looking for Crybaby Lane and the old orphanage, so I hope the directions provided are helpful to those of you who want to see it for yourself. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s a particularly interesting place to wander and find remnants of the past, and it’s a fantastic Raleigh legend that’s worthy of exploring.

 

Crybaby Lane Orbs - Could these orbs be a collection of spirits, still “living” in the place that was once their home, or hovering above the land that serves as their grave?
Crybaby Lane Orbs – Could these orbs be a collection of spirits, still “living” in the place that was once their home, or hovering above the land that serves as their grave?

 

Addendum

Thanks to a lot of great discussion around the actual location of the remnants of the old orphanage buildings, and a vintage aerial view from reader Wesley Hughes, I’m adding these additional maps so future ghost hunters can explore the grounds of where the orphanage once stood. Click on each map for a large detailed view of the grounds location.

orphanage on Bilyeu street super imposed over todays maporphanage on Bilyeu street

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  • heather

    Heather

  • I sincerely believe that through the power of storytelling, I can make social issues become more than a set of statistics. My expertise is in community leadership, non-profit work, event coordinating, networking, and storytelling. My resume. All my articles.

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