Post by Graveyardbride on Dec 20, 2021 18:45:55 GMT -5
America’s Ghosts of December
There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago. – “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Nothing says “Christmas” like Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, but few American spirits make an appearance during the Christmas season, or the month of December for that matter. Following are the eight in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia who do:
December 1-15: The claim to fame of the Stevenson House at 530 Houston Street in Monterey, California, is that for a short time in the spring of 1879, when it was known as The French Hotel, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish author, spent a short time on the premises. Fortunately for Stevenson, he had departed by the time of the deadly typhoid fever outbreak a few weeks later. The first to contract the disease was Juan Giradin and despite his wife Manuela’s best nursing efforts, he died on July 1, 1879. The fever continued for months and by the fall, Manuela’s two grandchildren were sick with typhoid and she nursed them until she became ill herself and died December 21st. Since her death, every year, usually during the first two weeks of December, a spectral “Woman in Black,” presumably the spirit of Manuela, has been seen in various locations in the Stevenson house.
December 14-15: From all accounts, George Washington, first President of the United States and Father of Our Country, was in good health on Thursday, December 12, 1799. But he had been riding around his estate of Mount Vernon (above), located in Fairfax County, Virginia, that cold, miserable day and because he was somewhat late getting home, chose not to change out of his damp riding attire so as not to delay dinner. It snowed approximately three inches overnight and although he wasn’t feeling well the following morning of Friday, the 13th, managing an 8,000-acre plantation was a never-ending job and he decided to go out and select some trees for removal. Several people noticed he was becoming hoarse and when Tobias Lear, his personal secretary, suggested he take something, the general replied, “You know I never take anything for a cold. Let it go as it came.”
But it didn’t “go” and in the wee hours of Saturday morning when he awakened his wife Martha, the former president’s breathing was impaired and he could barely speak. Nonetheless, he insisted on waiting until sunrise because he did not want Martha, who was getting over a cold herself, to go out into the frigid night air to fetch help. At sunrise, after the maid had started the house fires, he sent for Lear, who in turn, sent for the overseer, Albin Rawlins, and Dr. James Craik, Washington’s personal physician. Rawlins prepared a kettle of boiling water and vinegar for his employer to inhale, which was probably the only treatment the aging general would receive during the coming hours that actually helped. The overseer also prepared a mixture of molasses, vinegar and butter, but Washington choked on the thick concoction and went into convulsions. Then, over Martha’s protestations, Washington asked Rawlins to bleed him and the man was so engaged when the doctor arrived. At that time, it was believed that bleeding reduced swelling and inflammation. Mrs. Washington, a sensible and practical woman, was skeptical about the practice, convinced it did more harm than good, and asked Rawlins to take it easy.
Craik entered the bedchamber around 9 o’clock that morning and applied a painful “blister of cantharides (dried beetles),” commonly known as “Spanish fly,” to the exterior of the patient’s throat. (This concoction would have been hot enough to raise blisters on the skin because it was believed the blisters would draw out the toxins causing the patient’s throat inflammation.) The doctor then performed another bloodletting, draining approximately 18 ounces of the American hero’s blood and a similar withdrawal took place at 11 a.m. Craik also administered an enema and prescribed a gargle of sage tea laced with vinegar, but by this point, although he was sitting up in a chair because lying flat on his back impaired his breathing, Washington was unable to gargle.
When Craik suggested yet another bleeding, Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick, a second physician who had arrived on the scene, objected. By 4 o’clock, a third doctor, Gustavus Brown, had made it to Mount Vernon and immediately prescribed a dose of calomel (mercurous chloride) and a tartar emetic (antimony potassium tartrate), which caused profuse vomiting.
By 4:30 p.m., realizing death was near, the general requested two wills he had written, one of which he discarded. He then called Lear to his bedside: “I am just going. Have me decently buried and do not let my body be put into the vault less than three days after I am dead,” Washington, who was terrified of being buried alive, emphasized. “Do you understand me? ‘Tis well.”
It wasn’t long, however, before he was again struggling for air and addressing Craik, gasped: “Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it; my breath cannot last long.” Ever the Southern gentleman, he then insisted upon thanking the three doctors for their help.
Unfortunately, the “treatments” continued and around 8 p.m., blisters of cantharides were applied to the patient’s arms, legs and feet while wheat poultices were placed upon his throat.
Two hours later, Washington murmured some last words concerning his burial and at precisely 10:10 p.m., moved to check his own pulse. Those gathered in the room (pictured above) watched as his hand dropped to the bed and the first President of the United States breathed his last.
The doctors could not say with absolute certainty what killed Washington, but it’s safe to say in his case, the attempted “cures” he endured on the last day of his life were as, if not more, painful than the disease. Additionally, it is estimated the combined bleedings drained as much as 40 percent of his blood supply. Through the years, there have been several retrospective diagnoses from quinsy (a complication of tonsillitis) to Ludwig’s angina (bacterial infection of the mouth) to Vincent’s angina (trench mouth) to strep throat to acute pneumonia. While no one can be certain, 200 years later, Drs. David Morens and Peter R. Henriques suggested the American hero was the victim of acute epiglottis, a virulent bacterial inflammation of the flap at the back of the throat that closes the windpipe when we swallow.
Following death, Washington’s body was washed, dressed and laid out in a mahogany coffin in the New Room, a large banquet hall-type room and the grandest at Mount Vernon. As directed, he lay in state for three days before he was placed in the tomb on Wednesday, December 18.
Since Washington’s death, there have been many tales of hauntings at Mount Vernon, particularly around the anniversary of the general’s death. In the late 19th century, a writer for The New York World claimed the first president’s spirit still occupied his bed chamber:
“This historic chamber is haunted; of that there would seem to be little doubt. Many people within recent years have slept in it, and they declare that they were awed by the viewless presence of the nation’s first President. They deny earnestly that the notion is based on imagination. Few of these temporary occupants have been able to get any sleep. Obviously, it is one thing to see a ghost, and quite another thing to feel one to be aware of the nearness of a strange and brooding specter. They all agree that Washington visits his chamber in the still watches of the night.”
On one occasion, the author continued, “Mrs. William Beale and a friend of hers spent a night at Mount Vernon” and “were permitted to occupy Washington’s bedroom. In the middle of the night they were awakened by the sputtering of their candle.” Frightened, they got out of bed, got dressed and sat up until morning and at one pointed they “were sure they heard Washington’s sword clank distinctly in a corner.”
As recently as 2017, a character interpreter who has worked at Mount Vernon intermittently since 2004, was in the home on the anniversary of Washington’s death waiting for some sign of a ghost, but nothing happened. However, when she returned the following night, she noticed “the vibe in the area had changed” and upon looking into the southwest bed chamber, noticed an electric candle had turned on of its own accord. “Then it hit me,” she said. “George Washington died on December 14, 1799, and the next day, Martha Washington shut up the bedroom they shared and moved to the southwest bedchamber. Apparently, she’s still marking that sad day.” Martha remained in what some described as the “cramped” bedroom in the third-floor garret until her death of what was described as a “severe fever” on May 22, 1802, at the age of 72.
Other supernatural activity reported at Mount Vernon includes the apparition of an 18th-century woman coming down the stairs carrying a large punch bowl; an “angry gentleman,” seen as recently as the 1980s; a “swishing” sound like that of a woman’s skirts in the central passage; unexplained activity in the stables; the sound of jangling keys; a “presence” in the Yellow Room; cold spots on the third floor; a misty form in Washington’s tomb; and the wraith of a strange little girl on the grounds.
Christmas Season: In 1849, Adelicia Hayes Franklin, a rich 32-year-old widow with a 5-year-old daughter, met and married her second husband, Joseph A.S. Acklen, and the two set about designing a summer home that Adelicia was determined to make the showplace of Nashville, Tennessee. Just four years later, they opened the doors of their 36-room, 19,000 square-foot Southern Palladian mansion. Set in vast gardens designed in the manner of the Italian Renaissance of Tuscany, the Acklens christened their home Belmont (above) and soon they were welcoming the crème de la crème of society, including President Andrew Jackson.
Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last long for three of Adelicia’s children – the daughter by her first husband and twin daughters by Acklen – died in 1855, and the following decade brought war. Then in the late summer of 1863, while Joseph was in Louisiana making arrangements to sell the cotton harvested from their plantations, his carriage plunged into a bayou. He survived, but contracted what was probably yellow fever and died September 11th. According to legend, at the time of his death, the ornate mantle clock at Belmont stopped and never ran again. His body was returned to Nashville and he was laid to rest at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Though grief-stricken, Adelicia, a true belle of the Old South who has been compared to Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, immediately traveled to Louisiana to save the family’s cotton crops, arranging for thousands of bales to be transported first to New Orleans and then to Liverpool, England, where they was sold for a hefty sum.
Sadly, her bad luck wasn’t over, for during the Battle of Nashville in December 1864, Belmont was commandeered by Union invaders and Mrs. Acklen and her children were forced to seek safety in town. Not only did the yankees damage the house and demolish several outbuildings, tents were set up and trenches dug in the magnificent gardens, which were almost totally destroyed.
Shortly after the war ended, Adelicia married Dr. William Archer Cheatham, a highly respected Nashville physician, but 17 years later, for reasons unknown, she left him and relocated to Washington, D.C., where she built another house. She was in New York City purchasing furniture for her new home when she unexpectedly died on May 4, 1887, at the age of 70. Her body was brought home to Nashville where her heavy, ornate coffin was entombed in the mausoleum with her first two husbands and the six of her 10 children who had preceded her in death.
Following Adelicia’s demise, Belmont was sold and eventually became part of the Belmont College for Young Women, forerunner of today’s Belmont College, and this was when stories of the “Christmas ghost” began. Unexplained activity was reported throughout the year, but around Christmastime, especially during a ritual called the “Hanging of the Green” during which students decorated the winding stair rails with boughs of holly and fragrant evergreen, numerous students reported feeling a presence and hearing the rustling of silken skirts on the stairs. Some even swore they saw a dark-haired beauty in a shimmering white gown standing on the stair landing. The reports continue to this day and as Christmas approaches, anything untoward that happens in the old mansion is attributed to Belmont’s long-dead mistress.
Just before Christmas: A very strange “haunting” (or “occurrence”), attributed to a local witch, takes place every year at Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville, Georgia, just prior to Christmas. Dixie Haygood (above), aka “Annie Abbott - The Little Georgia Magnet,” an illusionist and Vaudeville star of the late 19th century traveled the world performing amazing feats, one of which was the “lift test” wherein several large men were unable to lift her from the floor despite the fact she weighed no more than 100 pounds.
Sadly, both strangers and family members stole from the lady and by the early 1900s, she was living on Lawton Street in Macon and going by her maiden name, Jarratt. In 1912, she accused her son, Fred, of threatening her with a pistol, also claiming he was not her biological son, but rather a boy she adopted after her real son died. Fred, in turn, swore out a writ of lunacy against his mother and she ended up in the lunatic asylum.
For some reason, Mrs. Haygood and the Yates family did not get along in life and when she died on November 21, 1915, she was buried in the plot next to John Yates, who had called her a witch, among other things. For more than a hundred years, in the days before Christmas, a sinkhole appears in the Yates family plot and although cemetery workers have repeatedly filled it – with cement on at least one occasion – as Christmas approaches the following year, it reappears. Some say the hole is a result of Dixie’s curse.
December 20-25: The B&O (Baltimore & Ohio) Railroad tracks that once passed through the former mill town of Cottageville, West Virginia, were removed long ago and now the track beds are used primarily by hunters and hikers. But for many years during the holiday season, there have been reports of phantom Christmas music in the vicinity where a retired locomotive engineer once lived in a small house beside the tracks. As word of the phenomenon spread, old timers recalled the elderly gentleman had a soft spot for children and at Christmastime, he bought candy for local youngsters and played Christmas carols on his gramophone. Even though the old man, the house where he lived and the railroad tracks themselves are long gone, on grey, foggy days near Christmas, people still hear the merry sounds of music emanating from the area where his home once stood.
Christmas Eve: Another musical haunting occurs at 25 Orange Street in Nantucket, Massachusetts. The Joshua Bunker house was built in 1819 and from 1971 until the early 21st century, the home was operated as the House of Orange Bed and Breakfast by Peter Guarino and Paul Wilder, who readily admitted the place was haunted. After they heard what sounded like church music coming from the third floor their first Christmas Eve in the house, they researched the property and discovered it was once the home of Samuel Snelling, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and during his tenure, there was a small organ in his study on the top floor upon which he played Christmas carols during the holiday season.
Christmas Eve: On December 22, 1916, the body of Frederick A. Jordan, keeper of the Penfield Reef Lighthouse off Fairfield, Connecticut, washed ashore. Now, every Christmas Eve, Jordan’s spirit returns to complete entries in the keeper’s log. See “Christmas Spirit of the Penfield Reef Lighthouse.”
Between Christmas and New Year’s Day: On cold nights during the dark of the moon, or when the moon is obscured by dense clouds, people on Block Island, which lies nine miles off the coast of Rhode Island, occasionally see the specter of a burning ship that wrecked almost 300 years ago. See “December 27, 1738: The Palatine Light.”
Sources: California State Parks; Knox, J. H. Mason, Jr. "The Medical History of George Washington, His Physicians, Friends and Advisers," Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, (1933); Dr. Howard Markel, Dec. 14, 1799: "The Excruciating Final Hours of President George Washington," PBS News Hour, December 14, 2014; Ken Ringle, "The Death of a President," The Washington Post, December 11, 1999; Vibul V. Vadakan, M.D., "A Physician Looks at the Death of Washington," Archiving Early America; Ghost Stories, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association; Belles, Beaux and Brains of the 60s by Thomas Cooper de Leon; Tennessee State Library and Archives; White Pillars: Early Life and Architecture of the Lower Mississippi Valley Country by L. Frazier Smith; The Haunted South; The Ghosts of Nantucket by Blue Balliett; Banshees, Bugles and Belles: True Ghost Stories of Georgia by Barbara Duffey; The Macon Telegraph; Jeffrey Peterson, "Telling Ghost Stories Is a Lost Tradition on Christmas Eve," The Deseret News, December 23, 2010; and Yankee Magazine.