Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Haunted Houses of Vicksburg Part I: Anchuca

During the four years we have lived in Vicksburg, I have shared literally hundreds of pictures of our quaint historic town which sits high on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.

I've written stories about and featured photos of the Doors of Vicksburg, the Gates of Vicksburg, the Flags of Vicksburg, the Architecture, Windows, Shops, Cemeteries, Churches, Trees, Court House, Military Park, Steeples, and Bridges of Vicksburg. I've photographed Vicksburg in the Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall, and shared "drive by" photo tours of its neighborhoods all decked out for the seasons, including Halloween and Christmas.

And now, I would like to share a glimpse of yet another facet of our fair city — the Haunted Houses of Vicksburg. But first, a little background.

The city of Vicksburg is perhaps the most historical city in the State of Mississippi, and the siege of the city during the War Between the States, is, without a doubt, one of the most memorable and significant battles of the War. As a result, Vicksburg is steeped in legends and lore — and yes, more than its fair share of "ghost stories," too.

There are countless antebellum houses located in Vicksburg, most of which have their own tales of ghost sightings and unusual and unexplained occurrences. Some of these tales have been investigated and documented by paranormal investigators, including actual photographs of a few of the "entities" featured in the stories.

Last week, I decided to visit some of the "haunted houses" of Vicksburg, in hopes of hearing some of the stories firsthand — from the current owners of the houses. My first stop was Anchuca, one of the most beautiful antebellum mansions in the city, which has been converted to a lovely bed and breakfast inn.

I spent a very pleasant morning visiting with the gracious hosts and co-owners of Anchuca, Mr. Tom Pharr and Mr. Chris Brinkley, who have lived in the house for nine and a half years.

They were kind enough to take the time to share with me some of their personal encounters with Anchuca's friendly "ghosts," and, I have to admit, they weighed heavily on my mind as I wandered through the mansion with my camera (I was secretly hoping that one of the "ghosts" would appear in my pictures, perhaps in a mirror or window, but they were shy or otherwise engaged while I was there).

Tom and Chris gave me "free rein" to tour the house at my leisure, and I truly loved every minute of my visit. The house is absolutely gorgeous, with its original architecture, exquisite period furnishings, and elegant chandeliers.

Master Bedroom


The chandeliers in the Entry Hall and Ladies Parlor have the original ceiling medallions with their acanthus leaf pattern, made of marble dust, horse hair, and molasses! Can you imagine!

Chandelier in Music Room

The door on the upstairs balcony features the original stained glass sidelights and transom which were imported from Europe, and made in a process using pure gold and mercury. The door opens onto the outside balcony where Jefferson Davis spoke.

I discovered this lovely room upstairs, along with the gorgeous little chandelier hanging in a hallway:

Before I share the rest of my pictures and some of the fascinating stories Tom and Chris told me, I need to tell you a little about the history of Anchuca and introduce some of the "characters" who may still be rambling through its beautiful rooms today.

I borrowed the following information from Tom's and Chris's Anchuca Mansion website, which you can visit by clicking on the link:

Anchuca, a Choctaw Indian word meaning "happy home," is one of the most significant antebellum homes in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this impressive Greek Revival landmark represents the first columned mansion in Vicksburg, and the first historic home to become one of Mississippi's finest bed and breakfast inns.

Surrounded by stately live oaks and located in the heart of Vicksburg's Historic District, Anchuca was built in 1830 by local politician J. W. Mauldin. In 1847, Victor Wilson, a local coal and ice merchant added the columned front and the two-story dependency in back. Standing proud through the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863, the house was put into service providing shelter for those who had suffered severely through the War.

Joseph Emory Davis, patriarchal brother to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the owner of the magnificent Hurricane Plantation located in Warren County, Mississippi, and a great American pioneer in his own right, lived here until his death on September 18, 1870, at the age of 87. Jefferson Davis was reunited with his brother (and father figure) at the home in January 1869. The town's legend testifies that it was during this stay that Jefferson Davis did indeed speak to friends and neighbors from Anchuca's front balcony, marking this site for many historians and Southerners alike as one of the last public addresses to the people of Vicksburg by Jefferson Davis.

Today, Anchuca's bold, impressive exterior gives way to an elegantly refined yet comfortably inviting interior. The antebellum home is handsomely furnished with fine antiques and art representing the late 1700s to the mid-1800s. Anchuca stands in grand tribute to Vicksburg's rich history and offers its bed and breakfast guests a sensuous escape complete with a hearty dose of Southern hospitality.

I found the following information about one of Anchuca's "ghosts" at Haunted Houses in Vicksburg:

In 1837, between owners Mauldin and Wilson, another family moved into Anchuca and improved the mansion, making room for the large family of Richard Archer, a plantation owner described as being eccentric and stubborn, who wanted to move his family into town. He had five daughters who he strictly brought up, keeping a tight leash on them.

One of Richard Archer's daughters, was a carbon copy of not only his looks but also of his temperament. This headstrong lass, her father's favorite daughter, was called "Archie." She unfortunately fell in love with the overseer's son on her father's plantation. Richard Archer rejected this match, forbade their love, and sent the young man away, seriously ruining his relationship with Archie. She wouldn't talk to him and ate by herself standing by the fireplace in the Ladie's Parlor, and perhaps by the main Dining Room fireplace as well.

The entity of "Archie" Archer, dressed in a long brown dress has been seen since 1966, standing in either the Parlor or the Dining Room, close to the fire place. Her presence has been strongly felt on occasion in these rooms. She started appearing in 1966, when Jack Lavendar, his wife, and their teenage daughter moved into Anchuca. The Lavendar family and their butler had seen Archie, as well as others throughout the years.

It is interesting that the entity of Archie didn't start appearing until another teenage daughter moved in with her family, though this entity has been hanging around for years. Perhaps she died before she could make up with her father? Perhaps she is still waiting for the boy she loved to come and get her?

We'll never know "the rest of the story" about Archie, but, according to Tom and Chris, her spirit, or presence, has certainly made itself known, not only to them, but to their staff and friends.

And now, here are a few of the stories Tom and Chris told me about their personal encounters with Archie and some of the other "unknown" entities sharing their home with them.

The first story took place in the elegant dining room.

If you look carefully at the photos of the dining table shown below (you can click on the images to enlarge them), you will notice that three of the four candlesticks on the table have glass bobeches to catch the wax drippings.

Not long ago, Anchuca's housekeeper, Patricia, heard a noise like glass breaking in the dining room and when she entered the room she saw fragments of the bobeche lying on the table. It had been broken into two pieces, almost as if it had been cut in half. Tom showed me the broken pieces and it was eerie to speculate on how that could have happened.

This is the fireplace in the dining room where Archie would stand and eat her meals. Her "spirit" has been seen standing there on several occasions.

Archie also made her presence known in the Ladies Parlor. I don't blame her for wanting to visit it — isn't it lovely!

And speaking of lovely, just across the entry hall from the Ladies Parlor is this beautiful room:

Chris shared an interesting occurrence witnessed by one of his friends while visiting Chris in his home, which is in the old slave quarters of Anchuca. It seems that three antique masks that were hanging on a wall all of a sudden just flew off the wall and landed across the room. Needless to say, that would have been quite unsettling. Chris, who confessed that he has been known to talk to the "spirits" on occasion, said he told them to "leave his masks alone," and they have remained firmly anchored on the wall ever since.

One of the most interesting and humorous stories Tom shared with me is that of a close encounter one of his friends had with one of the spirits (probably Archie). His friend Georgia, who is with the DA's office in Vicksburg, and one of the "most down-to-earth-no-nonsense" people Tom knows, had agreed to take care of Tom's dog Snickers while Tom was out of town.

When Georgia came by to check on Snickers (who always greeted her excitedly at the door), he didn't come to the door, which she thought was strange. Georgia walked through the house calling him, but still, no Snickers in sight and not a sound to be heard. Upon entering the dining room, Georgia saw Snickers sitting at the foot of these stairs, frozen in place and trembling, looking up at the balcony area ...

Georgia started talking to Snickers but he remained frozen in place, trembling, and totally ignored her. She glanced up the stairs and she, too, had the same reaction as Snickers, for at the top of the stairs was the apparition of a woman "hovering" on the balcony.

Tom told me that Georgia made a hasty retreat and told Snickers that "he was on his own!" She also retracted her offer to "house sit" sometimes when Tom was out of town. I can't much blame her for that, can you!

Both of the above occurrences happened during the day, but there have been nighttime appearances, as well. Chris shared the following late-night story with me:

Around midnight one evening, he came down to the kitchen from his home in the old slave quarters, to get some ice cream, and was on his way back up the stairs when he saw a light up on the balcony.

The light seemed to pass through the upstairs bedroom door (on the left in the picture below) out onto the balcony.

At first, he thought it was car lights coming through the stained glass sidelights and transom, but then it dawned on him that the light had stopped IN FRONT of the door and was not coming through the windows.

As he stood transfixed, he could make out the form of a woman with long hair in a long flowing dress, hovering in front of the door. Chris said he was mesmerized and couldn't move for several seconds, then the light started moving again and passed through the bedroom door on the right.

After recovering from the shock, Chris beat a hasty retreat to his room, circumventing the stairs, and immediately locked and bolted the door. He laughed at himself afterwards, when he realized that if a spirit can move through doors and walls, locked doors aren't going to keep it out.

Tom also shared a couple of encounters staff members have experienced, and introduced me to Annie, who told me about the day she heard water running upstairs and thought it was Tom in the shower. The water continued to run for a good while, and then Annie was surprised to see Tom walk into the house. She told him she had heard water running upstairs and thought he was in the shower, and he said he had just returned from being out for a while.

Soonafter, Tom discovered signs of a water leak in the dining room, and upon searching the attic for the source, discovered several portraits, dating from the 1880s. The source of the leak was never found, and it has not leaked since they cleaned and hung the portraits in the entrance hall.

The portrait of Joseph Emory Davis, brother of Jefferson Davis, hangs in the library.

Annie also told me about another occasion when she tried to open a door into the laundry room which would not budge, no matter how hard she pushed against it. Then, a few minutes later she returned to try it again and it opened easily.

My favorite story involves the exquisite brass chandelier in the dining room.

The fixture was originally a gaslight, but was converted to electricity several years ago. It seems that at certain times of the year when the sun is reflected from cars in the parking lot below the dining room, the reflection casts a perfect silhouette of the chandelier on the wall of the stairwell opposite the window. You're probably wondering what is so unusual about that — well, the reflection is of the chandelier when it was a gaslight, complete with shadowy plumes of flames or smoke coming from the globes! Now, that is a picture I would love to capture!

It seems that Anchuca has several entities who mean no harm, but for some reason, have issues that keep them restlessly wandering the rooms of the beautiful old mansion, which they at one time called home. I loved hearing their stories and experiencing for myself a trip back in time and a glimpse of the life they lived.

I'd like to thank Tom and Chris for taking the time to so graciously share their beautiful inn and its fascinating history and "spirits" with me.

If you are planning a trip to Vicksburg, I highly recommend a stay at Anchuca, where you will experience true southern hospitality at its finest.

Chris is the chef for the inn's gourmet restaurant, Cafe Anchuca, and, judging by guests' comments, his plantation breakfasts and signature desserts are exceptional. Cafe Anchuca serves the public Wednesday through Sunday Brunch, and they are currently giving complementary house tours to their dining guests.

[Note: In case you are wondering, I did not receive compensation for writing this post. When I am impressed with something — be it a person, place, or thing — I enjoy sharing it with others.]

Next at Southern Lagniappe: A visit to Cedar Grove Mansion


Judy said...

We loved our visit to Anchuca last February as well as everything we saw and did in Vicksburg....thanks to the wonderful information you provided us before our trip there. Can't wait to return!


Donna said...

Great post! I enjoyed all the pictures and info, especially the ghost stories. Too bad you didn't capture any of them on your camera. I wish they would call "Ghost Hunters" to do a show there.

Anonymous said...

Incredible post Janie. Wonderful stories and fabulous photos!

midnight macaroons said...

Wow, this is such a cool post. I love historical homes full of history. This one is truly amazing.

Tonja said...

Not too long for me! How interesting. All that history and ghosts, too! Not sure I could stay there, but would love to tour the house! Loved that little bedroom! Neat how it was built into the ceiling like it is!
Great post!