Since I am hoping to include a book review in the near future as a blog entry, as a buffer while I try to finish reading my selected title, I thought I would take a brief time out from logical dissection, philosophical skepticism, and nods to investigative methodology. Yes, my comments over the years about ghosts have been pungently skeptical, but only because I cannot reconcile ghosts logically. I have tried to counter my skepticism by stating that I believe proof of ghosts would be, “monumental,” and in so doing I would be guilty of committing the greatest exercise in understatement that the historical record has ever known. But, furthermore, my initiation into looking at the concept of, “ghosts,” from every academic angle I could possibly think of did not mean that a sentimental appreciation for the topic would not develop in parallel. This simultaneity did in fact happen, and the point of this blog entry is to elaborate just how my own journey has been made worthwhile.
In October of 2008, I knocked on the door of an antebellum home in Bolivar, Tennessee. I had a ticket for a ghost tour of the home, and I wanted to make the trip over in advance so I could know what parking was going to be like and where I needed to report for the start of the tour. You know how we aviation enthusiasts are. We have to do pre-flight checks on everything. What I could not know at the time was that as that front door opened to that home that was built in 1849, part of my own heart was opened, as well, and my life was beginning a chapter that I wish never had to end.
The kind, hospitable, and wonderfully spirited lady that answered the door was Mrs. Elaine Cox. She purchased a historical home in the early 1980s that is known locally in her then community as Magnolia Manor. I proceeded to tell Mrs. Elaine that I was there to scout out parking and to learn where the tour would commence, but I also continued to tell her there was an underlying reason why I bought a ticket to see her home. I made her aware that I was trying to find the most haunted location in my vicinity that I could visit in person so I could evaluate it. In as clumsy a fashion as I could, I began to try and explain to her that I had learned about ghost investigation from scientists and magicians. I tried to highlight the differences between ghost hunters and me.
Never has more grace been extended to a more poor and obstinate soul than that which was bestowed to me that day by Mrs. Elaine. She never looked away during our conversation, she never yawned (as I seem to have an amazing knack for making people yawn), and she endured a diatribal lecture given by me on the importance of investigating ghostly claims from the proper boundaries of science. Her courtesy on that very day turned into an addition to my personal history that I never would have assumed possible when I first began looking at the subject of ghosts from an Xs and Os frame of reference.
I returned to Magnolia Manor a week later and took the tour of the wonderful home. Mrs. Elaine had brought the house back to life in restoration efforts and she had even gone to the trouble of matching some of the original wallpaper. The home had taken on a special status with ghost hunters and with others who had an interest in the topic. Some of the names who visited there were Troy Taylor, well known for his book writing and knowledgeable prowess about the paranormal. Pat Fitzhugh, the Tennessee author who has written a thorough book on the Bell Witch haunting also visited Magnolia Manor. Rich Newman, a ghost hunter local to my area and a now more than one-time guest on George Noory’s radio show, “Coast to Coast,” began a documentary on Civil War era ghosts and included Magnolia Manor in his production. Psychics came through on occasion, one of whom I was supposed to get a chance to meet, but the scheduling never worked out. And, because Magnolia Manor was a bed-and-breakfast, it is said that a celebrity or two stayed there over the years. For several weeks out of the year, the home took on a vibrant air as ghost hunting teams would stay with Mrs. Elaine. Ghost hunters simply came to be an expected attachment to the property. But, after almost ten years of visiting Magnolia Manor, I can tell you for certain that the true magic of Magnolia Manor was Mrs. Elaine Cox.
After concluding my first ghost tour at Magnolia Manor, I eventually returned as a bed-and-breakfast guest. Since Mrs. Elaine knew of my interest in the fact that her home was reported to be haunted, when first showing me the room where I would be staying on the second floor, she also gave me the keys that were original to all of the door knobs. She was giving me free reign of the entire upstairs. A dream had come true for me. I had been having to hear for years from the media, and occasionally from an individual, that there was a such thing as ghosts. Now, for once in my life, I was able to go and meet the ghosts on their territory. It was finally an opportunity to set ghost hunting assumptions aside and observe and engage an environment with the methods I had learned from the magicians who have influenced me the most.
But, over time, even though my commitment and desire to investigate never waned in the slightest, I began to appreciate Magnolia Manor from a totally different perspective. I visited Magnolia Manor as often as I could over the course of almost a decade. The only reason I didn’t visit more was so that I respected the family’s privacy in hopes that I didn’t wear out my welcome. As time went on, I realized that I had gained a grandmother.
Yes, whenever it was time for all of us to go to sleep during my overnight stays, I still went into ghost busting mode and never went to sleep right away. I always worked in time to immerse myself in the surrounding environ so maybe I could better understand why someone would believe they had seen apparitions there at Magnolia Manor.
But, as the years progressed, I was there to visit Mrs. Elaine, and ghosts became secondary. My visits usually began in the back living area of the mansion which was adjacent to the kitchen. After sharing a lot of laughs, the visits then progressed into the kitchen, where Mrs. Elaine and her husband treated me to some of the finest meals I have ever eaten. However, more importantly than the meals, was my appreciation for the fellowship. Our conversations ranged from fun stories, to religion, and most certainly, to the question of ghosts. What cannot be overly emphasized, though, is just how many laughs we really did share. I came to realize that the hunt for ghosts, an endeavor that I once disparaged, had now given me something more than furthered scientific enlightenment.
I have Elaine Cox to thank for making me realize that in my stubborn pride and conviction to live by a code of reductionism is not all there is to life. My commitment to pedanticism led me to finding Mrs. Elaine, but thankfully, it did not impede my realizing that I had discovered something as important as a quest for proof of life after death. When my grandmother passed away from cancer, I was eleven years old, and because of a two hour car drive in physical separation, I could not have the opportunity to hold her hand when she was beginning to slip into death. I am forever grateful that I have gotten to gently take the hand of Elaine Cox and thank her for showing me that my unexpected journey in life has been worth taking. Ghost hunters can chastise me for almost missing a valuable lesson, which is, if you miss what is truly valuable here in the land of the living, you just might be doomed to becoming a ghost yourself.
Sadly, the ghost hunting days at Magnolia Manor have come to an end, and so has one of the most significant chapters in my life. Thankfully, even though chapters end, we can at least go back and re-read them. The intersection of my life and Magnolia Manor, or better, yet, Elaine Cox, is a chapter that I will continue to re-read for as long as I live.
As chapters end, new ones inevitably begin. Back in 2015, when I began working for The University of Mississippi again, I was shopping for a home that was located closer to campus. I had saved a listing of a home in Holly Springs, Mississippi that dated back to 1841. The home was historical, which was a project I was interested in taking on, and it was also in my price range. I wound up buying another property instead because of the solitude it offered, not knowing what I would find out in the Fall of 2018.
When it comes to ghost stories, my focus had always been on Bolivar, Tennessee, because the amount of ghost stories it has per square mile in its confined space is impressive. The many stories led me to calling Bolivar my little, “Savannah, Georgia,” because it does have a nice collection of ghost stories.
For some reason, and it is to my great chagrin, I had missed the stories about a very key property in Holly Springs that has been reported to be haunted for decades. Kathryn Tucker-Wyndham, the wonderful Alabamian who was a master storyteller and writer of her ghost books, mentions a notoriously haunted property in Featherston Place of Holly Springs. But, somehow, I missed the stories regarding a property known as Linden Hill, which is the property that I had once marked to visit while shopping for a home near my university.
Last year, I first got to visit the home of Linden Hill, again as a tourist. It was during this tour that Stacey Humphreys and Jimmy Smith told us of their experiences in the Linden Hill home. The couple was initially considering the purchase of a home in Missouri, but while online one day, Stacey happened to run across an ad for a home that was for sale in Holly Springs, Mississippi for a phenomenally low price. Needless to say, the couple’s real estate direction changed, and they wound up purchasing Linden Hill.
As the story goes, the Cawthon family who owned the home in the early 1900s had a daughter named Beulah. The story first gained a larger exposure in the Summer of 2018 when Jerry Mitchell, reporter for the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi wrote an article on the home and its new owners. Mitchell’s claim to fame is for his work that led to a famous Civil Rights Era case being reopened for trial and he was portrayed in Rob Reiner’s 1996 film, “Ghosts of Mississippi.” The article on Linden Hill can be found at the following link: https://www.clarionledger.com/story/magnolia/2018/06/14/mississippi-home-holly-springs-has-ghost-some-say/669106002/ Because of her manic symptoms, Beulah was placed in a mental institution for treatment of her condition. After showing progress and improvement, Beulah was released to come back home to Linden Hill. That’s when the story turns a bit Lizzie Bordenesque. Beulah’s parents are supposed to have been awakened at midnight while their daughter stood at their bedside with hatchet in hand. Needless to say, it was at that point that Beulah was recommitted to a life of institutionalization.
It is supposed to be Beulah’s ghost that now haunts the home of Linden Hill. In just the last few days, the Travel Channel completed filming at the residence, and Linden Hill will be featured in an upcoming episode of, “Hauntings in the Heartland.” Some of the occurrences that are claimed to have happened at Linden Hill are a kitchen cabinet opening on its own, audible moans, flickering chandelier lights, light switches flipping on their own, faucets turning on by themselves, banging on the back bedroom wall, heavy chairs moving on their own, and shaking doors that had to be scotched (among others). My personal favorite story is that the very heavy doors in the front parlor violently moved while a family member who was attending Northwest Mississipi Junior College came back for a visit with company from school. I am still trying to get a copy of the article that documents this visit.
Stacey and Jimmy were kind enough to let me stay after the home tour I took with a group. I got to talk to them in more detail about Linden Hill. I stayed three to four hours after the tour concluded. They were wonderful hosts as we visited there in the kitchen where a cabinet is said to have opened by itself. They are incredibly personable people with wonderful senses of humor. I was kept laughing most of the evening. However, Beulah chose not to make herself known in my presence.
I am incredibly thankful that my interest in understanding the world around me led to my being able have these two mentally scrapbooked memories from two properties that are supposed to be crypts for those not yet at rest. But, there is a remaining fact that I have yet to overturn. Having spent time in two of the most haunted properties in my region, I have still only experienced silence from the ghosts. After all my years of looking into the topic of ghosts, on those rare occasions where I get to slow down long enough so I can sit still and reflect, I often ask myself what in the world I am doing? I used to use the term, “ghost chasing,” in a derogatory manner. Now, I have spent what time I have been allowed to browse haunted locations like these in an effort to find answers, when deep down, there is no doubt that I feel the issue of ghosts has already been settled. And, yet, for the sake of objective inquiry, I would spend more hours at haunted locations if it meant allowing for any possible discovery of a direct consequence of paranormal permeation of an environment.
But, the silence has always won. I am certainly an individual who does not want to be a practitioner of solipsism, but I think if I am ever going to understand belief, ghosts, and religious orthodoxy, I will have to do so in terms of story, consideration of the points made in the simulation hypothesis, the processing of information, and consciousness. In other words, I may have to learn to see the world through a solipsistic looking glass in order to have any chance at harboring even a stunted comprehension. But, such an understanding, for me, would be penultimately superficial, as it would be non-empirical in nature. It is the empirical that I seek out for satisfactory explanation, but if the subject matter is this highly subjective, it may escape any attempts at being held to an empirical standard when it is so vastly out of step with empirical measure anyway. Of course, where quality scientific investigation comes in is making sure that you do not lapse into pseudoscience in the effort to make the phenomenon empirical.
If ghosts are there, they have not made themselves known to me. Perhaps they turn their nose up at empiricists. Solipsists, are indeed, much more fun to talk to.
Image credit goes to original photographer.