Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Past: Another Civil War Sampler

By request, here is another collection of accounts from Christmas during the Civil War.  As with last year’s edition, the excerpts from diaries, letters and memoirs below are from both Union and Confederate sources and vary from privates to generals. Also included are a couple of civilian reminiscences, including a very unusual account from a newspapers involving lots and lots of liquor. In the accounts, you will find talk of Santa Claus, food and drink (mostly egg nog) and thoughts and prayers for home and family. Some are sad and others reflect the joy of the season even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Whether written from a Confederate perspective or a Union point of view, each are very similar, and that's no surprise, as they were all Americans. Enjoy, and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year!


Camp E.K. Smith near Manassas, December, 1861
Father, Dear Sir,
I take the opportunity of dropping you a few lines to let you know that I am well at present…Day before yesterday the box came to hand which my things were in. I got them all. The blankets will answer a very good purpose for camp…

It is a very dull Christmas up here. We cannot get any whiskey to make us any eggnog. Everything is very high up here. We have to pay three prices for anything we get…There is not a prospect for a fight here. The soldiers are all going into winter quarters. We are building our quarters…It will take us two weeks to finish, yet I would like to come home and spend the winter and come back in the spring so that I could get some potatoes and bacon. We have not had a pound of bacon in two months. We have eat beef so much that we have a disgust against ever seeing beef any more. I hardly ever eat it. I buy butter, and I generally have to give four bits a pound. I hope you all have a merry Christmas for we could not have any here…

Give my love to all relations and friends. Write soon. I remain your son until death.
J.J. Wilson, 16th Mississippi Infantry

Folly Island [South Carolina]                                                                                                         Sunday, Dec. 27th 1863

My Beloved Mother—

Some time has elapsed since the date of my last note to you, longer than I usually allow myself to be silent. But we have been extremely busy preparing for Christmas. Since we came back from Otter Island, we have had a great deal of hard work to do. The first thing on the docket was to build a house for the company to eat their meals in. The other companies in the regiment had built theirs for a similar purpose. D company, being the last on the list, we concluded we would have something that would take the starch out of the rest of them. For a long time we have borne the reputation of being the best company in the 40th, & we resolved that our reputation should not suffer for lack of a good “eating house.” Our principal trouble has been the lack of tools, but we put our wits at work and with the use of axes, hatchets & one saw, have got up quite a building, of the following dimension, 23 ft. long, 20 ft. broad, 10 ft. rafter, with a little portico in the front. The house is covered with palmetto leaves, windows are of the gothic style with lattice work, and a white curtain inside. We are to have five tables inside, capable of seating 12 men each and have got a fine building take it all the way round. By dint of hard exertion we completed it sufficiently to allow us to take our first meal Christmas noon. Well, we had a big dinner, I can tell you. The best I have seen since I entered the service of Uncle Sam.—We had roast beef, turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, and all the “fixin’s” such as horse radish, pepper sauce, &c. Then come on a great plum pudding, and mince pies, and a dessert of apples, raisins and nuts. Our officers were very kind, and tried their best to give us an opportunity to enjoy ourselves, and we did just that thing I can tell you. By orders from headquarters the day was set apart as a holiday (no duty to perform.)—The officers of the Reg’t. for the purpose of having some sport had contributed funds for prizes in several games and races, as follows.

We had an exquisite Christmas gift the night before, a magnificent serenade, a compliment from Colonel Breaux. It very singularly happened that Miriam, Anna, and Ned Badger were sitting up in the parlor, watching alone for Christmas, when the band burst forth at the steps, and startled them into a stampede upstairs. But Gibbes, who came with the serenaders, caught them and brought them back into the parlor, where there were only eight gentlemen; and in this novel, unheard-of style, only these two girls, with Gibbes to play propriety, entertained all these people at midnight while the band played without. . . .

I commenced writing to-day expressly to speak of our pleasant Christmas; yet it seems as though I would write about anything except that, since I have not come to it yet. Perhaps it is because I feel I could not do it justice. At least, I can say who was there. At sunset came Captain Bradford and Mr. Conn, the first stalking in with all the assurance which a handsome face and fine person can lend, the second following with all the timidity of a first appearance. . . . Again, after a long pause, the door swung open, and enter Mr. Halsey, who bows and takes the seat on the other side of me, and Mr. Bradford, of Colonel Allen memory, once more returned to his regiment, who laughs, shakes hands all around, and looks as happy as a schoolboy just come home for the holidays, who has never-ending visions of plumcakes, puddings, and other sweet things. While all goes on merrily, another rap comes, and enter Santa Claus, dressed in the old uniform of the Mexican War, with a tremendous cocked hat, and preposterous beard of false hair, which effectually conceal the face, and but for the mass of tangled short curls no one could guess that the individual was Bud. It was a device of the General's, which took us all by surprise. Santa Claus passes slowly around the circle, and pausing before each lady, draws from his basket a cake which he presents with a bow, while to each gentleman he presents a wineglass replenished from a most suspicious-looking black bottle which also reposes there. Leaving us all wonder and laughter, Santa Claus retires with a basket much lighter than it had been at his entrance. . . .Then follow refreshments, and more and more talk and laughter, until the clock strikes twelve, when all these ghosts bid a hearty good-night and retire.

Charles Macreading Vincent, 40th Massachusetts Infantry

December 25. [1862] - There is nothing new up to to-day, Christmas. We moved our camp a little piece. Eigenbrun came to see us to-day from home, and brought me a splendid cake from Miss Clara Phile. This is certainly a hard Christmas for us - bitter cold, raining and snowing all the time, and we have no tents. The only shelter we have is a blanket spread over a few poles, and gather leaves and put them in that shelter for a bed.

Louis Leon, 1st North Carolina Infantry

Dec. 25 [1864]: Christmas day among the troops. . . .Whiskey has been the program of Christmas Eve, and all this day some have their roasted turkey, while some have hard tac and coffee. I take my big dinner the day before. The troops are on a spree. The day has been quite lively with cannonading and music by the bands at headquarters. It remains so this evening. No news in camp this day. . .

Jacob Haas, 51st Pennsylvania

Thurs. Dec. 22. We went to get our Christmas tree this evening. It was very cold but we did not feel it we were so excited about it.

Fri. Dec. 23. I went down to Mrs. Lesters and Ella and me planted the tree and finished making the last presents. I came home and strained some pumpkins to make some pies for Christmas.

Sat. Dec. 24. I have been buisy to day making cakes to trim the tree and Ella and I have it all ready trimed and we are all going to night to see it. I think it looks very pretty. We will be sorry when it is all over.

Sun. Dec. 25, 1864. We all went down last night to see the tree and how pretty it looked. The room was full of ladies and children and Cap. gave us music on the pianno and tried to do all he could to make us enjoy our selves and we did have a merry time. All came home perfectly satisfied. This has ben a cold dark day but we all went down to see how the tree looked in the day time but it was not as pretty as at night.

Carrie Berry, a 10-year-old girl in Atlanta, Georgia

Camp Wycliff Ky.
December 25th 1861
Miss Orrilla Davis and Nan Davis

My dear little daughters,

This is Christmas night and no doubt while I am setting in my tent in a war camp, you are enjoying yourselves at the Christmas Supper which I understand you are having at the Court House. No doubt you are enjoying yourselves over your Christmas presents and I hope Santa Claus in his rambles last night did not miss the Stockings of my two little girls but put something nice in them to make them happy. I got a Christmas present this evening which was nothing more than a letter from my dear little girl, and I now hasten to answer it. I was very sorry to hear that our sweet little babe was so sick but I hope it is getting well before this time and no doubt but what I will next hear that you and Nan will both have the measels and if you do you must be patient and you will soon get well again. I was surprised that you could write so good a letter & I read it to some of the boys and they said it contained more news than one half of the letters that they got from Liberty.

We did not have to drill today consequently I do not feel as tired as I do some nights. I will tell you what we had to eat today as you no doubt would like to know. Well we had roast chicken, oysters, peach pie, dried beef, molasses, brisket, butter, crackers, milk, sweet potatoes, rice, eggs &c. So you see we did not starve. It was not cooked as nice as your mother could cook it but it was very good. We bought most of it from country people and they sell them cheap enough if they were only cooked good but they are poor people who bring them and they have to cook them by the fire in skillets as they have no cook stoves. Stuffed chickens ready cooked are worth 20 & 25 cts, pies 10 cts, cabbage 5 cts apples 6 for 5 cts. milk 10 cts pr qt. roast turkies 75 and 80 cts. Sweet potatoes 75 cts per bushel, and many other things about the same. Jo Miller is in my tent while I am writing and almost cried when he read your letter…

The drums are now beating for us to put out the lights so I must stop for this time but will write to some of you again this week. You must write to me often as that is the way to learn, and you don’t know how glad it makes me to get a letter from my dear little girls.
No more this time from your affectionate father,

A.F. Davis
Andrew F. Davis, Co. I, 15th Indiana Infantry

There came a carload of boxes for the prisoners about Christmas which after reasonable inspection, they were allowed to receive. My box contained more cause for merriment and speculation as to its contents than satisfaction. It had received rough treatment on its way, and a bottle of catsup had broken and its contents very generally distributed through the box. Mince pie and fruit cake saturated with tomato catsup was about as palatable as "embalmed beef" of the Cuban memory; but there were other things. Then, too, a friend had sent me in a package a bottle of old brandy. On Christmas morning I quietly called several comrades up to my bunk to taste the precious fluid of... DISAPPOINTMENT! The bottle had been opened outside, the brandy taken and replaced with water, adroitly recorded, and sent in. I hope the Yankee who played that practical joke lived to repent it and was shot before the war ended.

Henry Kyd Douglas, written from Johnson’s Island Prison, Ohio


My Dear Little Pet, On this Christmas Eve I have no doubt you have been enjoying yourself, perhaps with the toys of the season, eaten your nuts and cakes, hung up your stockings in the chimney corner for old Kris Kinkle, when he comes along with his tiny horses, "Dunder and Blixen" and his little wagon to fill in Lots and Gobs of sweet things, sugar, candy sugar plums, and if you please, sugar every thing. Well, When I was a little boy, a good many years ago, I was fond of such things myself. And when I look back, they were indeed the happiest days of my life. Enjoy them my little "Pet"--they come but once. The boys, I mean the two Willies, are getting too old for the enjoyment you can have. When ignorance is bliss `tis folly to be wise. I wish you a Merry Christmas and many of them. I must close. There is a lot of soldiers at my door giving me a serenade and I must give it some attention.

Your affectionate Papa

Union Brig. Gen. John Geary, Fairfax Station, Virginia, December 24, 1862, to his daughter

My Dear Mattie:
Enclosed you will please find a piece of poetry that is well adapted to my present feelings, which you can keep for my sake:

Thy room is vacant; Thy smile is gone, and I am quite sad and lone
Oh! Naught is left my heart to cheer, But gloomy shades of black despair.
Oh! What deep grief it caused my heart that you and I did have to part
I weep for thee, my hearts best love, as doeth the lonely, mateless dove.
Where’er I go to find relief, I only find more bitter grief;
I often roam from place to place, In search of lines thy hand hath traced.
But they were burned in curling flame, And naught remains but thy loved name
Oh! that my heaving breast was stilled, My cup of grief hath been well filled.
Then “twilight” falls upon me now, Before me “God” I humbly bow,
and ask that He would soon return The one for whom my heart doth burn.
And then, Dear Mattie, I look away With hopes to see a brighter day
Oh! May that happy day soon dawn, When you, loved one, will be my own again.
Then my sad heart will bound in bliss, at the soft touch of thy warm kiss,
And I will prove my love sincere, For thee, my own beloved dear.
Therefore, I’ll try and not repine, I fondly know thy heart is mine,
Thy picture I behold in tears, But look for bliss in future years.
The ringlet of your golden hair, Is to my gaze supremely fair;
Those lines in verse you marked with grace, Have often been most fondly traced.
The ring which you have given me, Is token of your courtesy,
Is emblematic of my love , Without an end as time will prove.
All, all the token of thy love, Are dear to me as heaven above;
They are a treasure to my heart, Which never can from it depart.

And now, dearest one, I will keep this till after Christmas Day and then I will send it to you as I will have perhaps something new by that time to write. This is the 23rd day and Christmas is near by; how I am to spend it I cannot tell. I sent my name out to a private house today for dinner on the 25th. I am nearly starved for something good to eat--we get nothing here but mean water to drink and poor beef to eat, and good as no salt we don’t have any to put on our bread--one small tea cup of salt for 20 lbs. of beef, and that has to do eight men three days.

Soldiers dying very fast; busy burying all of the time. No war news to write only they are fighting like rip in places--big battle at Fredericksburg, Va., a few days ago; our loss, about 18 hundred. The enemy’s is estimated from 8 to 15 thousand--shame to think how men are butchering up one another. No prospects of peace as we can hear.

I never hear from any of the boys: I don’t know where they are. I am going to write to mother in a few days. Our president, Jeff Davis, and Joseph E. Johnston were out here last Sunday to see our brigade, but I was sick and could not get out to see them. I have been quite sick for the past week- -bowel disease--but am nearly well again; will be able for duty in a day or two. I will have to pay 8 or 10 bits for my dinner if I succeed in getting Christmas. Bacon is worth from 50 cents to one dollar per pound here; eggs $1.25 per dozen, chickens, $1.50; butter, $1.25 per pound; everything else in proportion. I think if I live to see next spring that I will come home. It does seem to me that I can’t stay away any longer. I will send you a ring when I send this if I can get one.

After Christmas is over, I will write you a few more lines and send this, and tell all about my dinner.
Good-bye Babies,

E.H. Goodwin, Co. E, 31st Louisiana Infantry, December 23, 1861

Christmas and New Year's were very pleasantly remembered in this winter camp, though observed somewhat differently than they had been on former occasions and in other places. Still the American will ever remember his holidays, and, if possible, celebrate them with such ceremonies as his ingenuity may suggest or his means and condition enable him to improve. We had "select" dinner parties, with rare entertainment; music by our excellent band, speeches, and minor festivities of a more general character. One of the incidents of Christmas day was a procession formed by all who were permitted to be festive, headed by a donkey, the gravest ass of the company, mounted by an impersonation of Old Nicholas. This procession moved about the camp to the music of fife and drum, much to the amusement of both the participants and the lookers-on. Lieutenant-Colonel Chandler nominally commanded this merry expedition, but the donkey, being a little obstinate and difficult to ride in a straight line, really became the solemn chief of the occasion. There were other far more brilliant exhibitions with and around us, but probably none where the participants became more innocently jolly.

Edwin Mortimer Haynes, 10th Vermont Infantry


The local editor of the Vicksburg Sun relates the following as his Christmas experience:

Egg nog is a very difficult thing to compound to suit one’s palate. We tried the experiment yesterday and after drinking one glass we arrived at the conclusion there was too much egg. We diluted the mixture with Otard and tried again, but after two glasses of the new compound we discovered it was not sufficiently sweet. More sugar being added, we imbibed several glasses, but the result of the experiment was that excess of sugar we had added ‘gan to pall upon our wearied sense. So we again diluted the mixture and set to, but this time it involved the second bottle of brandy, which proved to be rather fiery after sipping three or four glasses, so we qualified the mixture with rum. Now rum per se is a very delectable beverage, and when mixed with brandy and converted into nog, it is for the gods. So we devoted our attention to the nog, and managed to put about a quart under our belt. We then smoked a cigar, and feeling dry, imbibed three or four glasses of nog, but it had a villainous twang. We added more rum and then we drank. We believe we drank several times more, when not liking the flavor of the sugar, we thought we would go out and buy a plantation and make sugar to our own liking. Took a turn around the room and took another drink. Somebody set two glasses and two bowls of nog on the table at least it seemed so to us; so we waited for our friends to come, but as they didn’t, we drank to their health out of both bowls and with two tumblers. Made more nog, cracked an egg containing a very juvenile chicken, popped him in and rather reckon that chicken got tight at a very early age. Drank more nog. Feeling very dry, we concluded to go out and get a glass of nog, but on looking up we saw two doors, and as we knew our room had but one, we thought we would wait until our friends with whom we were drinking should return and show us the way out. Tasted some more nog, and imagined that we had been converted into a big egg, and that our darling Mary Ann was about to break us in two preparatory to converting us into nog. Found we had been snoozing, and took more nog to keep us awake. We – here – began – to – think – that – then – nog – was - *  *  *  *

- reprinted in the Daily Constitutionalist, Augusta , Georgia, January 26, 1862


Steamer John J. Roe
December 25, 1862

Dear Wife,

Well, dear, it is Christmas and I am on board this old boat. Landed at Milliken’s Bend in Louisiana 22 miles above Vicksburg by land, and have just been on shore taking a walk and saw rebel pickets. Now where are you and what are you doing? I would like so well to know. Where were we last Christmas and what did we do? I have been trying to think, but can’t make it out. I know we were together someplace and I hope we will be again next Christmas. It seems so strange that I should be away down here 1,300 miles from you. What did the children find in their stockings? I lay awake two or three hours this morning thinking of them and wishing I could see them…

Your own, Jake

Captain Jacob Ritner, 25th Iowa Infantry


Camp Fisher [Virginia] Decr. 31st 1861

Dear Sister

We have built our winter quarters and are living as comfortably as rats. Plenty to eat and nothing to do. Our mess chest abounds with meal, flour, rice, bacon, beef, sugar, coffee, and sometimes with vegetables. Sometimes we draw fresh pork. Our Christmas was dull. No eggnogs, apple toddies, candy, stews, nor Christmas parties cheered our lonely Christmas day. All we could do was sit around our fires and discuss the good old days of yore, the beauty of our sweethearts and our gloomy Christmas.

Richard C. Bridges, 11th Mississippi Infantry


December 25th

We spent this our third Christmas in the army in moving our camp from the Picayune Press to Woods Press on Cannall Street. Here we had rather better quarters and pleasant surroundings. We were on the principle streets of the city, something like a mile back from the river…The good folks at home sent us a box of good things and among other things there was a four gallon jar of gilt edged butter and as we had hardly tasted butter for something over two years. I think that butter never tasted quite so good to mortal man before or since. It helped out our sad bread and hardtack wonderfully.

William Wiley, 77th Illinois Infantry, in New Orleans, Louisiana


About twenty young men and girls gathered around small tables in one of the drawing rooms of the mansion and the cornucopias were begun. The men wrapped the squares of candy, first reading the “sentiments” printed upon them, such as “Roses are red, violets blue, sugar’s sweet and so are you,” “If you love me as I love you no knife can cut our love in two.” The fresh young faces, wreathed in smiles, nodded attention to the reading, while with their small deft hands they [glued] the cornucopias and pasted on the pictures…. Then the coveted eggnog was passed around in tiny glass cups and pronounced good. Crisp home-made ginger snaps and snowy lady cake completed the refreshments of Christmas Eve….In most of the houses in Richmond these same scenes were enacted, certainly in every one of the homes of the managers of the Episcopalian Orphanage. A bowl of eggnog was sent to the servants, and a part of everything they coveted of the dainties.

Varina Howell Davis, on Christmas in the Confederate White House, 1864


The north wind comes reeling in fitful gushes through the iron bars, and jingles a sleighbell in the
prisoner's ear, and puffs in his pale face with a breath suggestively odorous of eggnog."

Christmas Day! A day which was made for smiles, not sighs - for laughter, not tears - for the hearth, not prison."

Federico Cavada, 114th Pennsylvania


December 25th [1864]
Christmas Day, and very very cold. Have been moving about some of late, but
are again in our old quarters, We have had very unpleasant weather for several
weeks, The rain had almost washed us away. The whole country around about
here appears to be under water it is almost impossible to get about at all. All
military movements will have to stop until the roads improve, It is said that
Ladies of Richmond intend giving us a New Years dinner hope it may prove true
would like right will to get something good to eat. The health of the Regt
continues good. There is no news of any importance

January 1st [1865]
The long talked of Christmas dinner has come at last. Three turkeys, two ducks,
one chicken and about ninety loves, for three hundred and fifty soldiers. Not a
mouth full apiece where has it all gone too, where [did] it go The commisser or
quarter masters no doubt got . May the Lord have mercy on the poor soldiers

John Kennedy Coleman, 6th South Carolina Infantry

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Winter Quarters:
(2) Camp Scene:
(3) Vincent:
(4) Hass:
(5) Santa Claus:
(6) Douglas:
(7) Geary:
(8) Soldier in Camp:
(9) Winter Hut:
(10) Egg Nog:
(10) John J. Roe:
(11) Confederate White House:
(12) Cavada:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Hell on Wheels:" Sam Jones Comes to Jackson

Sam Jones was born in Oak Bowery, Alabama in 1847. At age nine, he moved to Cartersville, Georgia, with his father (his mother having died) and graduated from a local academy. His father greatly desired that Sam become an attorney and, subsequently, he passed the bar and became a lawyer in 1868. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very good lawyer and as a result fell into fits of depression and alcoholism. Working a series of odd jobs, he was barely able to support his growing family. In 1872, though, all that changed when Sam Jones (right) experienced a dramatic religious conversion as his father lay on his deathbed. He immediately gave up drinking and later that same year entered the ministry and became an itinerant Methodist preacher. In 1881, he was appointed as the agent for the North Georgia Orphans Home (right), which was in Decatur, Georgia. In an effort to raise enough funds to keep the orphanage afloat financially, Jones started traveling the state, preaching and speaking on behalf of the orphanage. In the process, he found he had a gift for revival preaching and he began attracting large crowds. In 1884, Jones was invited to come to Memphis, where his preaching attracted such attention he was invited to Nashville the next year. There, a man named Tom Ryman was converted at one of Jones’ services. 

Though lacking any formal education, Tom Ryman was a shrewd businessman. By 1885, Ryman controlled a fleet thirty-five riverboats and a string of saloons. Among Sam Jones’ favorite targets during his sermons was drinking and gambling, both of which cut into Ryman’s profits. So, with the intent of disrupting Jones’ revival, Tom Ryman went to one of the services to “raise a ruckus.” During the revival, however, Ryman was converted and pledged to build a building large enough to accommodate anyone who wished to hear Jones and other revival preachers in Nashville. Seven years later, the Union Gospel Tabernacle was completed at a cost of $100,000, and Jones preached there on June 1, 1892. Ryman died twelve years later and Jones preached his funeral on Christmas Day. During the funeral, which was attended by 5,000 people, Sam Jones proposed that the Union Gospel Tabernacle be renamed the Ryman Auditorium (left) in Ryman’s honor. Today, the Ryman Auditorium is a National Historic Landmark, recognized both for its architecture and its contribution to country music, as the building was the home of the Grand Ole Opry for many years. 

Four years after Sam Jones held his great revival in Nashville, he came to Jackson, Mississippi, at the request of both the city fathers and Bishop Charles Betts Galloway of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Jones arrived by train on June 4, 1889. He had visited Jackson the previous November and had spoken to a packed audience in the House of Representatives chamber of the state capitol (now the Old Capitol Museum). At that time, he promised to return to Jackson to hold a revival, and now in June he was delivering on that promise. Jones had just concluded a series of revival meetings in Danville, Virginia, and arrived on the Vicksburg and Meridian Railroad after a long journey. Despite that, he asked to be taken directly to the revival site instead of taking time to refresh himself at the home of Major Reuben Webster Millsaps on North State Street. This house, now known as the Millsaps-Buie House (above right), was brand new, having been completed the year before. Instead of going to the Millsaps home first, Sam Jones stated that he was anxious to get to work, as “Jackson has a pretty hard name and he wanted to meet its sinners early and intended to stay with them late.” As such, he was taken directly from the train depot to the meeting place, which was held in a large tent erected on the north end of the capitol grounds (about where the War Memorial Building is today). The “mammoth tent” had seating to accommodate four thousand people, and special train fares were arranged to bring visitors to Jackson from as far away as Osyka and Michigan City on the Illinois Central. The revival services lasted more than a week and drew enormous crowds to hear the great evangelist, who preached three times each day (at 9:30, 3:00 and 8:00). 

It must have been quite a show. Jones’ preaching style was described in a variety of ways by those who experienced the revival. “He plays upon an audience as a skillful master would a harpsichord,” a reporter observed. “In truth, to Sam Jones an audience is a marionette, subservient to his power – to weep, to laugh, to sigh, to scream, as pleases him.” Continuing, the writer said of Jones: “He is versatile, facile. Felicitous. At times reverent, tender, touching and pathetic; then jolly, joking, humorous and ridiculous; often rough, rude, loud and slangy; but whether tender or rough, always pleasing and entertaining, ever the inimitable, unapproachable Sam Jones, who says what he pleases in his own quaint way, without offending anyone. No other man could do as he does and live.” A reporter for the Brookhaven Leader observed that “his speech rolls like an endless chain and every link is a new surprise. An inexhaustible magazine of wit, humor and quaintness, of eloquence, pathos, fire and dynamite, his hearers never know which is going to explode until they are hit.” After observing Jones in action, a gentleman from Jackson, who was “not known for his piety,” said simply that he was “hell on wheels.” Whatever one thought of his style, it seemed to work. Although he was a Methodist minister, Jones attracted folks from many different denominations, and he appealed to the common man in his sermons, often focusing on the evil influence of money and power. In his first sermon in Jackson, despite the fact that his tent was next to the state capitol, Jones took aim at those in power: “I would rather be an humble Methodist minister than President of the United States. I would rather be a consistent Baptist preacher than the Czar of Russia; I would rather a faithful Presbyterian minister than to occupy the highest position on earth; I would rather be myself than Benjamin Harrison, because mine is the biggest job and will last the longest, and I don’t have to stoop to the damnable tricks of the politician.” The Jackson revival lasted until the following Tuesday, June 11, at which time he bid adieu to Jackson. In departing, he said he “never labored in a place where I had more co-operation and so little opposition. God bless the good people of Jackson.”

After leaving Jackson, Jones traveled to the mill town of Wesson, where he held forth for another four days and again attracted enormous crowds. The meetings in Wesson were held in a part of the Wesson Mill facility, which was, unfortunately, exceedingly hot. As a result, several persons fainted during the revival. Still, a crowd 8,000 was on hand for the Sunday morning service, where he was joined by the pastors of the local Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Jones’ theme during the Wesson revival focused on “profanity, Sabbath-breaking, licentiousness [and] intemperance.” After the final service on Monday morning, he was presented a collection of $1,023.75 for the work of the North Georgia Orphans Home. All other expenses were paid by the Wesson Mills, who also gave time off to their workers so they could attend some of the services. 

With his sojourn into Mississippi complete, Sam Jones moved on to other fields of endeavor. Continuing to preach against entertainments such theaters, dime novels, playing cards, baseball and dances, Jones' basic message to his hearers was to "Quit Your Meanness” and to turn instead to a life that was as sin-free as possible. Throughout, his main target was alcohol. "I will fight the liquor traffic as long as I have fists, kick it as long as I have a foot, bite it as long as I have a tooth, and then gum'em till I die," he said. In time, Jones broke away from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, because some Methodist leaders did not approve of his coarse and unorthodox style. From then until his death in 1906, he continued to preach as an independent evangelist. Jones died on a train near Little Rock, Arkansas, on October 15, 1906, just one day before his fifty-ninth birthday. He was on his way home to Georgia from preaching a revival in Oklahoma City. His body was taken to Atlanta, where he lay in state in the capitol rotunda and was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Cartersville, Georgia. His home in Cartersville (above right), known as “Rose Lawn,” is now a museum. Had he lived longer, Sam Jones might have achieved even more renown as a preacher. As it was, he captivated audiences far and wide, including thousands of Mississippians in the summer of 1889.

Photo and Image Sources:


North Georgia Orphans Home:

Ryman Auditorium:

Millsaps-Buie House:

Jones: From the May 30, 1889 Clarion-Ledger

Wesson Mills:


Rose Lawn:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Battle for the Golden Egg

The Old Oaken Bucket, the Jeweled Shillelagh, the Keg of Nails and the Little Brown Jug. If this sounds like the inventory for a very strange estate sale or perhaps a quirky museum exhibit (and it could be either), these are actually all trophies awarded to the winners of some of college football’s greatest rivalries.  Here in Mississippi, of course, the greatest treasure is the Golden Egg, and the annual contest for that most sought-after trophy – the “Egg Bowl” – is renewed each November. While nearly all Mississippians know about the “Battle for the Golden Egg,” how the game became known as the “Egg Bowl” may not be as well known.

The “Golden Egg,” which is in reality a football, came about as a means to lessen the tension between supporters of the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University. While the trophy is actually a football, it is shaped like an egg, as footballs in the 1920s were more oblong than today. The “Golden Egg” trophy came along in 1927, one year after a dramatic (and violent) game between Ole Miss and Mississippi A&M College. The Mississippi boys from Oxford won the game, but it was what happened after the game that caused cooler heads to come up with the idea for a trophy.

In 1926, the two rivals met in Starkville after posting identical 5-4 records. Ole Miss had dropped three of their last four games (including a 33-15 loss to Drake in October), while Mississippi A&M (as they were then known) had dropped two of their last three, but posted a dramatic 7-6 win over LSU on October 23. More important for Ole Miss, though, was the fact that the Red and Blue had not defeated their arch rivals in thirteen years. In fact, from 1911-1925, Mississippi A&M had outscored their in-state rivals by a combined score of 327-33! So determined were Coach Homer Hazel's University boys that each had vowed not to shaved until they had beaten the Aggies. As a result, the Ole Miss team sported heavy beards for the contest. Played on Thanksgiving Day, it was the first time in nine years the game would be played in Starkville. Tickets for the game were $2.50, although students could get in for $1.00. Special trains brought spectators from Jackson, Greenville and Oxford, and another brought students from the Mississippi State College for Women in Columbus. Coach Hazel’s (above) team departed Oxford on Tuesday and spent the next two nights in Aberdeen. When they arrived in Starkville on Thursday for the game, the field was a “sea of mud” after a day of rain on Wednesday. The conditions didn't dampen any spirits, though; by game time, more than 11,000 fans crowded the stands and end zones. The standing-room-only crowd was the largest thus far to witness the annual grudge match.

The Mississippi A&M coach in 1926 was Bernie Bierman. The ’26 campaign was one of only two for him in Starkville. In 1927, he would return to Tulane and then move on to his alma mater, Minnesota, where he compiled a record of 153-65-12. Before the game, Bierman (lower left) noted the condition of the field and admitted that the mud would “cramp their style” of play. Indeed, the Aggies completed only four passes and threw three interceptions. In reality, neither team did much in the way of scoring that day. In the first quarter, the Aggies and Red and Blue managed just one first down each. In the second period, though, Ole Miss got on the board when fullback Lacey Biles, a senior from Sumner who was called a “prince among men and a jolly good fellow,” smashed into the end zone from the three yard line. Kicking the extra point was Webb Burke, a 6’1” center with a jammed toe who had never attempted an extra point in his career. To his amazement (and Coach Hazel’s relief), the kick was good and Ole Miss led 7-0. Responding, Coach Bierman threw in five substitutes and after a 69-yard drive managed to score on a halfback run by R.R. Biggers. During the point after attempt, however, the Ole Miss line rushed hard and the kick by W.B. Ricks was no good. Mississippi A&M trailed 7-6. And that was it, as neither team could score another point. As a result, Ole Miss came away with the victory they had so long hoped for. Now, at last, the players could shave again (which they did later that same day).

Excited after finally beating their arch rivals, the Ole Miss fans spilled onto the field and a number of
them rushed for the goal posts. In response, several of the A&M supporters grabbed some wooden chairs and began attacking the “bearded Bersekers” from Oxford. "Irate Aggie supporters,” according to one account, “took after the ambitious Ole Miss group with cane bottom chairs, and fights broke out.” After the fight, which caused several injuries, The Reflector called the Ole Miss fans who had attempted to take down the goal posts "a band of hoodlums.” Both sides were guilty, though, and “The Battle of Starkville” was an embarrassment to both schools, which was witnessed by Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Dennis Murphree. The consensus was that something had to be done to calm down the rivalry. Thus, the “Golden Egg” was born.

Before the next game between the Red and Blue and the Aggies, both student bodies looked for a way to award the victors in a decidedly less hostile way. The first proposal, which was rejected by both school administrations as too costly and too cumbersome, was that the losing team would ship their goalposts to the victors. As an alternative, an Ole Miss honorary society, Sigma Iota, proposed a trophy and within a week both schools had agreed on what we now know as the “Golden Egg.” The cost of the trophy ($250) was to be split between the two schools and both student bodies agreed that the trophy, consisting of a “gold football of regulation size and mounted on a metal base,” would be presented to the winner after the annual game. In the event of a tie, each team would host the trophy for half of the year. Even at the time, the trophy was called “The Golden Egg.” In addition, both student bodies agreed (in writing) that immediately following the game, the “student bodies will rise and sing their alma mater songs, the student body winning team singing first, the second following after the first has finished.” Curiously, that tradition seems to have been forgotten.

The first awarding of the “Golden Egg” trophy was on Thanksgiving Day in 1927 and was presented to the host team, Ole Miss, who won the game 20-12. Again, the 14,000 spectators represented the largest crowd to date to attend the game. The trophy was presented in a ceremony following the game and (presumably) both sides sang their respective Alma Mater songs. Taken with the new spirit of cooperation between the two schools, the editor of The Mississippian proposed consolidating Ole Miss and Mississippi A&M. With enhanced facilities, the editor opined that the football team the combined schools would produce would create a “combination unbeatable by any aggregation in the country.” Apparently, Gov. Theodore G. Bilbo (right) agreed, and proposed just such a consolidation in his inaugural speech in January. Faced with intense opposition and protests from both sides, however, the idea was quietly dropped from Bilbo’s agenda. Today, of course, the “Battle for the Golden Egg” has nationwide interest and has created perhaps more passion among the Bulldog and Rebel faithful than ever before. Since 1927, though, the “Golden Egg” has peacefully changed hands at the conclusion of the “Egg Bowl,” a name coined in 1979 by a Clarion Ledger sports writer. Hopefully, the award of the $250 golden football will keep the peace for many years to come.

Photo and Image Sources:
Golden Egg:
Hazel: From the 1927 Ole Miss annual 
Game photo: From the 1927 Reveille yearbook 
Article: From the Times-Picayune, November 26, 1926
Cartoon: From the 1927 Ole Miss annual 
Egg Bowl trophy:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving at Beauvoir

In 1921, Elnathan Tartt, the superintendent of the Beauvoir Old Soldier’s Home in Biloxi, wanted to make Thanksgiving Day a very special occasion for the Confederate veterans and their wives under his care at Beauvoir. In keeping with his generous nature, Tartt invited the entire population of the Gulf Coast to join the old veterans in celebrating the season. Admission was free, but Tartt asked that everyone bring with them “a pleasant smile and handshake for the veterans.” In response, several thousand showed up and, by all accounts, it was a grand and festive affair. The Thanksgiving feast was but one of the events Tartt (right) provided for the “inmates” at Beauvoir. During most holidays, the superintendent arranged for sumptuous meals for the veterans and spared no expense to ensure that the old Confederates had the opportunity to attend veterans’ reunions. He also tried to provide the best medical care available. To do so, Tartt frequently petitioned the Mississippi Legislature for funds to build additional hospital facilities and solicited donations from citizens to provide for the veterans’ needs, including a copious supply of chewing tobacco. James Elnathan Tartt’s devotion to the veterans of the “late unpleasantness” was obvious to everyone and when Mississippi Governor Mike Conner considered replacing him in 1931, the veterans rallied to his cause and Tartt was able to retain his post. Born in 1867, Elnathan Tartt was himself the son of a Confederate soldier who served in the 36th Alabama Infantry.

Several days before Thanksgiving, the Gulfport Daily Herald published a story about the plans for the Thanksgiving feast. The article included a menu, which listed two hundred pounds of baked turkey, one hundred pounds of chicken and dumplings, four thousand raw oysters, five gallons of cranberry sauce, two thousand pounds of candy, four boxes of oranges, five boxes of apples, six hundred bananas, a 105-ft. jelly roll cake, twenty five gallons of sweet milk, an equal amount of coffee and “an assortment of fresh vegetables.” The program for the day featured a brass band from the Gulf Coast Military Academy, and rousing speeches by the presidents of both the military academy and Gulf Park College. Also on the program was a wedding for two of the patients at the Old Soldiers’ Home. The groom was a Confederate veteran named Frank Gardner, who served in Co. E, 7th Mississippi Cavalry during the Civil War. Gardner, who was 76 years old at the time, was slated to marry a widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Cooper, who was a 71 year old bride. Most interesting of all, perhaps, was a footrace between Patrick McLaughlin, a 100-year old veteran of the 10th Louisiana Infantry, and a widow named “Mrs. Nunnery.” McLaughlin, an Irish immigrant (lower left), enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 30 and served in the Army of Northern Virginia. According to his service record, he was captured at Woodstock, Virginia, in 1864 and sent to the Point Lookout prison. When Lee surrendered, only 17 men and officers remained in his company. McLaughlin’s racing opponent at the Thanksgiving feast was a "Mrs. Nunnery." A widow, Mrs. Nunnery was sixteen years younger than McLaughlin. A veritable spring chicken, she was no doubt heavily favored to win the race over “Uncle” Pat McLaughlin.

On Thursday, November 24, approximately 2,500 guests arrived at Beauvoir from across the Gulf Coast by automobile and street car. The Thanksgiving dinner, which was provided to the 250 residents of Beauvoir, plus their attendants, began at noon. As promised, the food was bounteous, and included a large supply of turnip greens picked from Beauvoir’s gardens (Superintendent Tartt regularly promoted the health benefits of turnip greens and frequently shared the garden’s produce with the Coast’s residents, “rich or poor, black or white”). The newspaper reported that the 105-foot jelly roll cake “made the feed a complete one.” The public guests arrived at 1:30 p.m. and the festivities began promptly at 2:00 with musical selections by the brass band and several speeches, led by the Hon. Charles Latham Rushing, a local judge and a member of the Biloxi Kiwanis Club, Knights of Columbus, Lodge of Elks and Woodmen of the World. He was also the attorney for the Mississippi Oyster Commission, which might explain the 4,000 oysters. During his address, Rushing expounded on the merits of President Jefferson Davis. Just two years later, at the age of 42, Judge Rushing died after two weeks of illness following “an attack of acute digestion,” leaving behind a wife and several children.

The next speaker on the program was Dr. Richard Garfield Cox. Cox was the founder and first president of Gulf Park College, a female college which was the predecessor of the USM Gulf Park Campus. Interestingly, Cox, even in 1921, was an accomplished pilot. He continued to fly and teach other pilots until his death in 1967. On this day, Dr. Cox (left), who was described as “a fluent speaker,” focused on educational and spiritual matters. Joining him from the Gulf Park College were approximately one hundred young ladies, who gathered on the front porch of the Beauvoir mansion to “sing songs, play musical instruments, and give recitations.” The president of the Gulf Coast Military Academy also spoke to the assembled crowd, but the biggest event of the day was scheduled for 3:00, when the wedding was to take place at the main house. After the nuptials, approximately 1,000 people lined up to shake hands with the groom. The long-awaited footrace, meanwhile, took place along a 400-foot path between the steps of the mansion and the front gate. Throughout the festivities, the old soldiers, their wives and the Confederate widows seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly.

As promised, Elnathan Tartt had indeed provided a memorable day for not only the residents of Beauvoir but for many of the Gulf Coast’s citizens. Tartt continued to serve as the superintendent and caretaker at Beauvoir for a number of years, but died before the final veterans left the Old Soldier’s Home. He is buried in Lauderdale, Mississippi. The last Confederate veterans left the home in 1951. Six years later, the last two widows were moved to a nursing home. “Uncle” Pat McLaughlin, who competed in the footrace, died in 1925 at the age of 104. The newlyweds died soon thereafter. The groom, Frank Gardner of Lafayette County, died in 1926, while his bride (and his fifth wife) passed away in 1928. All three are buried in the Beauvoir Confederate Cemetery in Biloxi, along with more than 800 other Confederate veterans and Confederate widows.

And the winner of the race? As expected, the spry Mrs. Nunnery, just 84 years old, claimed the crown...

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Beauvoir:
(2) Tartt:
(3) Beauvoir veterans:
(4) Veterans:
(5) Cox:
(6) McLaughlin: From Remembering Mississippi's Confederates by Jeff Giambrone (original at MDAH)
(7) Grave:

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Haunted Villa of Biloxi

Born in 1864, John Leisk Tait, Jr. was the son of a Scottish emigrant from the Shetland Islands. When his father first came to the United States (at a very young age), his family settled in Joliet, Illinois, where they were farmers. At age 19, John L., Sr. went to California, as many young men did at the time, to find his fortune in the gold fields and was a miner for six years. After returning to Illinois for several years, he relocated to Oregon and established a prosperous, 400-acre farm near Creswell (right). It was here that the “hardy Scotch-Norseman” raised his four children, including his oldest son, John L., Jr. Unlike his father, however, John apparently did want to become a farmer. Instead, he pursued a career as a writer, where he achieved some success. By his early thirties, John Leisk Tait had been published in a number of magazines and periodicals, including the Pacific Monthly, the New Age Magazine, the American Freemason, Bob Taylor’s Magazine and the World To-Day. His contributions included poetry, works of fiction, treatises on Freemasonry and the Great War (he was apparently an active Mason), and a historical piece on the burning of the steamboat Sultana. He was also a newspaperman. His longest stint in the newspaper business was in Memphis, where for fourteen years he was a reporter, assistant editor and Sunday feature editor for the Commercial Appeal, after which he became a copy and service manager for the Ruebel-Brown advertising agency in St. Louis.

In 1907, Tait (left) published a ghost story set in Biloxi in the San Francisco Chronicle. Five years later, on April 6, 1912, the story was reprinted in the Gulfport Daily Herald. The newspaper, as a lead to the story, reported that "the story of the haunted villa of Biloxi is one that holds the interest of the most casual reader, whether he believes in haunted houses or not. The villa is situated a few miles west of Biloxi and has in recent years been purchased and remodeled and extensively repaired and is today one of the handsomest residences on the Coast. It is occupied and needless to say, no one loses much sleep these days about the haunts. However, in the old days the story was quite generally credited and there was a genuine fear among the less educated contingent of the occupants of the house." In closing, the Herald praised the author, saying that Tait related the story of the haunted villa with "picturesque language, which reminds one somewhat of the style of Poe's Fall of the House of Usher." Although the paper seemed familiar with the house, there are no other clues in the story about its location other than being known as the “Brownwell” house. A cursory look at genealogical information from the period doesn’t reveal any “Brownwell” families in the Biloxi area and there’s no record (as yet at least) for a “Col. Bienville Brownwell.” However, there was a prominent lumberman by the name of Horace Brownell who apparently owned a summer home on the Coast at the time (he was the manager of the Berwick Lumber Company in New Orleans). Whether Tait simply borrowed and then altered the Brownell name for his story or if there is any factual basis for the house is unknown.  In the San Francisco Chronicle story, there is a photo of a house as an inset of a larger illustration. Whether this is a photo of an actual house on the Coast or is a generic “old house” image is also unknown. Regardless, I hope you’ll find the story entertaining…


Weird in its Southern beauty, the little town of Biloxi lies sleeping upon the edge of the great gulf at the southmost reach of the State of Mississippi.

Biloxi is an aristocratic old place, whose ancestral mansions, placed in wide gardens along narrow, shadelined trees, have each a history in itself. It was settled first of all the Gulf towns, so long ago that the date has blended into the personality of the old, cuirassed and helmeted cavalier of Spain and France who were led thither under Sauville, a kinsman of Bienville and Iberville, and who were impelled by the quaint and quiet beauty of the spot to found there a settlement. And it has ever since been a favored abiding place, for its waters teem with wild fowl and fish, and its shores luxuriate in subtropic fruits and vegetables. Moreover, it has always been the delight of mankind to dwell beside the sea, and in all lands, soon or late, the wealthier classes have utilized the power which their wealth conferred upon them to appropriate the more comely sea views for residence sites and this was true of the wealthier families of South Mississippi. They flocked to Biloxi first as a winter resort and then as a place of perpetual residence and the streets of the quaint old town are lined with substantial mansions the architecture of a century ago. It was here at Beauvoir, that Jefferson Davis retired after the close of the Civil War.

Less than three miles distant from Beauvoir, about seven miles from Biloxi, lies the haunted villa known in olden days as the Brownwell place. It must have been a stately building. Ruined and desolated as it stands today, its long, low galleries and extensive wings bear mute witness to its first estate. It lies deep within a thick wood well back from the road and not visible until one has penetrated a hundred yards within the encircling forest of gloomy live oaks which shroud it day and night. No bird sings within those trees; no rabbit darts from the hedge and frisks across your pathway as you approach; and however noisy the sea birds' clamor, not even the untamed courier of the deep dare hover over its gloomy recesses. Noises are there indeed, but they are noises from which the living shrink and in which no living creature has a lot or part.

The Brownwell place was built before the revolution by a family of that name. It was in its day the handsomest villa for miles along the Coast. It was the home of hospitality and the scene of unbounded gayety. The Brownwells were a cultured people, with a fortune adequate to the gratification of their tastes and their friendship was irrefutable evidence of social worth.

So they lived for years and then, as so often happens this proud house found its numbers reduced almost to the point of extinction. There remained only two, father and daughter. The last of the Brownwells in the male line was Bienville Brownwell. He had married when quite young, and his wife died almost immediately after the birth of their only child, whom the sorrowing father christened Dolores. With this child he took up his permanent abode at the Brownwell place and there devoted himself to her with an utter abandonment of all other interests in life.

Dolores, as she grew up, developed wonderful musical talent. Her skill as a pianist became the marvel and delight of all who knew her, but it was for her father that she played her best--on the moonlight evenings when the two sat alone in their beautiful home the motherless girl poured out in music the fullness of her heart to the saddened man who had been both father and mother to her and passers-by paused to listen and to wonder at the sweetness of the music and the indefinable thing of the eerie that pervaded it. Bienville Brownville raised a regiment and let it to the field, its first colonel. One of his captains was a young fellow who the night before they marched, stood with the tremulous Dolores within the piano room and told her father of their plighted love; and he fell, pierced through the heart, with a bullet in their first engagement. Less than a month later a fragment of a shell carried away Colonel Brownwell's right arm, and he returned wan and maimed to spend the remainder of his days comforting his stricken child.

The two were inseparable. If they had been devoted to each other before, they were doubly so now. The girl devoted herself to her father with an attachment which was redoubled because of her grief for the gallant lover who had fallen at his side; and the father, grieving for her grief, lost all interest in life, saving that which clung about his motherless daughter. I said they were inseparable. But there was one thing which sometimes drove the father fairly panting with pain out of her sight to wrestle alone with his God for hours. There were spells, nights when the moon was fitfully veiled and revealed though flying clouds and when the wind made mournful music in the pines, when she flew to her piano and poured out the anguish of her heart in such strains as mortal scarcely ever hears in this world. All her heartbreak, all her loneliness, all her grief and bitter anguish wailed through its measures and sobbed out upon the night and he who loved her would arise and flee to the beach, where the beauty, and not the pain, came to him; and there he would wander for hours, until the music ceased and he returned to the house to find her weeping in wild abandonment of sometimes lying in a dead faint beside her silent instrument. All the next day she would go about silently, with great dark eyes staring straight ahead of her and her face white and deathlike. Gradually she would yield to her father's tenderness, and once more take up, with a wan smile, the burden of her duties toward him.

One night there came an electrical storm of unusual violence, lashing trees and whipping the surf until the coast was strewn with destruction. In the midst of it there came upon the girl the spirit of longing for the dead lover, and she flew to her piano for consolation.

Never before had she played as she played that night. Forgotten was the war of the elements in the mad frenzy of the music as the woman's soul poured its anguish out on the wings of the wind, over the raging sea and up into the face of the black sky. Her father stood transfixed at her matchless, pallid beauty and the unspeakable pathos of her playing. Then, wrapping his coat about him, he left the house and sought the beach, unable to endure the sight of her suffering.

For an hour she played. Then the spell passed and she arose and went out upon the verandah, looking with unseeing eyes to seaward, her white robe fluttering in the storm, waiting longing for her father's return. There was a crash, the heavens were blinded with an intense flash of living fire and blackness and rolling thunders filled the earth and the heavens. But above it all she had seen her father’s form and for one instant had heard his voice. She saw his one arm flung wildly aloft and heard him calling her name. She plunged out into the night, calling him as she ran. She made her way through the storm to the beach calling incessantly. He was not to be found. She returned to the house and ran wildly from room to room calling his name and imploring him to return to her. The crash of the thunder was her only answer.

Next morning they found him. The sea had washed him ashore at the foot of the little pier which they used as a boat landing. There was no mark of violence upon him. The manner of his death remained a mystery. Probably he stepped too near the beach in the darkness and slipped into the angry waters and was unable, because of the loss of his arm, to regain the shore, and so perished.

The daughter's grief was indescribable. They buried him under the big magnolia in the family cemetery, and her waking hours were spent beside his grave. She continued to dwell alone in the desolated villa, the old Negro servants her only guardians.

Five days after the funeral her old nurse ran wildly down the shell road one night to the nearest neighbor, imploring him to come at once. He found her mistress dead upon the floor beside her piano, lying in a pool of blood. She had been stabbed in the back as she sat playing. Death had been instantaneous. Her murderer escaped, leaving no clue to his identity. After her burial the property passed to a distant branchy of the family, to people who had other interests binding them to a distant section. The villa was at once advertised for rent.

It was eagerly taken by one of the leading merchants of Jacksonville, Florida, who was spending a season with his family in the neighborhood of Biloxi. They remained three days and nights before moving out and offering the place for rent once more. Another tenant jumped at the bargain, and relinquished it as quickly. Repeated efforts were made to find a permanent tenant, but without success. Some left without explanation or excuse. Others assigned various and elaborate reasons for their sudden departure. A few boldly declared that the house was haunted and that they could not live there on that account.

Gradually these stories assumed definite form. A sound of piano playing, infinitely sad and infinitely sweet was heard during the nights emanating from the piano room. The voice of a woman weeping rang through the house and occasionally the words, "Father Oh, Father!" were heard by the horror stricken tenants. On stormy nights even when there was no electrical disturbances outside, the house would be filled with the glare of lightning and the crashing of thunder, and through the unlighted rooms the form of a frantic woman, clad in white, rushed with wild calls. Anon came the sound of a blow as if against a human form, the crash of a player's hands upon the keys of the piano, a heavy fall and silence.

Meanwhile the beautiful villa and its grounds were suffering decay. The fences were out of repair; the shrubbery was no longer trimmed; the marks of age and weathering upon the house were no longer removed, and the place passed rapidly into a stage of dilapidation, which made it shunner on that account, no less than because of its gruesome reputation. About this time there came a tenant who, to the surprise of everybody about the place, not only took up residence in the haunted villa, but remained there. This was a widow with two children, a boy of 12 and a girl of a year or two younger. She was attended by two Negro servants an old man of all work and his wife. They lived quite alone, entertained no one and made no calls.

Mrs. Hitchcock, for that was the name of which the widow gave to the agent from whom she rented the place, devoted herself to her children. The boy was manifestly an invalid. At first he was seen about the place by casual passers, his great, dark eyes and wistful bearing seeming to yearn for the companionship which he fled if it were offered. Later he was observed in an invalid's chair, wheeled about the walks by the old Negro man. One day there was a quiet funeral and the boy's emaciated body was borne out from the desolate villa to its last resting place beneath the magnolias.

Meanwhile there had been rumors, subdued at first but ugly and increasing in volume, about Mrs. Hitchcock and her household. There are some words in the English language at which the hearer starts to back against, and one of these had been mentioned in connection with them. It was the word "leprosy." The morning following the burial of the boy the mother received a call from authorities. She met them at the door. She had observed their approach through the live oak bordered avenue. Had she not watched for them through weary months with eyes that grew dim with watching?

"We come to search your place for a case of leprosy" said the leader of the posse. The woman went white to the lips, but she answered evenly. "Let me see your warrant." The officers fell back discomfited. "By George! We never looked after that. We didn't think you'd object," answered the leader. "Nor will I, if you are properly authorized to make such a search," answered the widow. "We'll have to come again," said the officer, and led his posse back to town.

Next morning they did come again, but there was no one about the villa to object to their search. Its late inmates had disappeared completely. Nothing remained to prove that they have ever been there, except a smoldering heap of ashes in the yard, where some papers and refuse had been burned, and a newly made grave under the magnolias. Yes, there was another bit of evidence--a note was found upon the piano in the front room. It was from the widow, and contained her pathetic story, and confirmation, if confirmation were needed, of the tales that clustered about the haunted villa. It was brief, but it was convincing. It read:

"You need make no search for me or mine, for before you see this we will be beyond reach and no effort will enable you to trace us. My two children contracted the leprosy, presumably from a Chinese servant. It manifested itself in them two years after their father died. I have fled and hidden with them from one place to another, fighting to prevent their being taken from me and sent to the leper colony. We have remained quiet here longer than elsewhere, owing to the fearful character which has been attributed to this house; and, believe me, it is all and worse than popular belief has painted it. I am convinced that the terror they inspired in my son hastened his death."

It is needless to state that the most determined search was instituted for the fugitives, but they were never traced. Where they went will probably never be known. But from that day a new and more terrible fear infused itself into the popular villa, which remains today, utterly neglected and shunner of all mankind.

Photo and Image Sources:
From The Illustrated History of Lane County, Oregon (1884)
From the Gulfport Herald, April 6, 1912
From the San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 1907
Ghost piano: