muriel j smith 120 2018They came in groups of 50 or more, then, because they couldn’t all crowd in at one time, half waited at the foot of Linden Hill, in the cold, dark night, while 25 or so at a time went through the front door and into the high ceilinged long central foyer to meet Stacey.

Stacey is the lady of the  house, owner with her husband, Jim, and  custodian, keeper, and interior decorator where she and Jim have lived for the past year. Called Linden Hill for its location at the top of a steep hill off a busy road with a pair of mature linden trees flanking the entrance, the home is also home to the ghost of Beulah Cawthon, who died in a mental hospital in 1968, put there by parents who said she tried to kill them with a hatchet while they slept.  It’s not official, but certainly my opinion, that Beulah is back there now trying to find the rest, comfort and love she never felt at Linden Hill during her time on earth. Nor am I the only one who thinks that.

Phillip Knecht is Mississippi born and college educated, a local attorney who has practiced for more than ten years but has put that on a side burner to invest more time in his family’s printing business. He’s also a historian, though admittedly, he took it up as a fascinating hobby and just can’t quit. He focuses more on architectural history, in which he holds a degree and for which he has a passion.  Phillip is a staunch believer that every building has a story, and every building important at some time in history should be restored and reclaimed for the stories it can tell.  He delights in telling the stories he knows, has researched, and believes.

phillip knechtPHOTO: Phillip Knecht

So it was a theatrical and charming Phillip who picked up the popular event stated a few years back by Gena Busby and expanded somewhat by Lisa McCarter and Andrea Edgeworth, all friends with Phillip who had worked with them in the earlier tours. They had the idea, rightfully so, that in the city of Holly Springs, population 8,000  a tour of historic sites in anticipation of Halloween would be popular.    

Newcomers Stacey and Jim, who are also avid history buffs and love delving into old records, photos, and newspaper stories, agreed to team up with Phillip and have Linden Hill one of six or seven stops on  a $10  tour for the first time this year.  Once it was advertised, the tickets sold like the wind; a second night had to be added.  Ticketholders didn’t come from Holy Springs, they came from miles, in some cases, more than a hundred miles around, after seeing Linden Hill on Facebook,  or hearing about the Yellow Fever Church.   In the end, even Phillip proclaimed that Linden Hill was the Showstopper of the Tour.

Staying overnight in the house, seeing Beulah’s antics, watching the dogs whimper or growl at what looked like nothing or no one, I could see why the house was a showstopper.

Jim and Stacey wanted to give up their bedroom for me. Not on your life, I retorted. If Beulah lives mostly in the front of the house, like you say, then that’s where I want to sleep. I’m not only here to visit with you, I’m here to see Beulah as well. So every evening Stacey set up bedding for me on the pillows-deep blood red couch in the formal parlor. The room where Beulah is said to be most active.

The lights. That’s probably what Beulah fools with most. The power company in Holly Springs isn’t up to the standards of Jersey Central P&L, so everybody’s lights go off some time. And everybody knows it. But at Linden Hill, the switch on the wall actually gets shut down.  Jim pauses for a minute or two, shrugs, says something about Beulah, then goes over and throws the switch back on. And light returns.

Then there are the doors! There isn’t much wind at this time of year in that little hill top Greek Revival style home.  All the same, I saw them, from across the room,  open. And close. And open again.  I didn’t see any windows open and close…Jim has nailed them all shut because he and Stacey got tired of following up on Beulah’s pranks. 

The door knocks are the next more prevalent signs of mystery. They are loud.  Distinctive. Can’t be missed. Definitely at the front door. Or the back door. You can tell the direction the noise is coming from, but you check both doors, just in case. It’s a rapid, three knock, knock, knock.  A deep tone, clear and distinctive, perhaps a bit apprehensive. The dogs bark, the little Chihuahua boldly goes to the door, the old, overweight beagle simply sighs and rolls over; the heavy bodied pit bull barks deeply.  Stacey opens the door. The Chihuahua retreats, tail between his legs, the pit bull draws back and snarls. There isn’t anyone there. Jim tries the other door. No one. They both shrug.

With at least eight groups passing through each of the two nights of visits, Beulah promised a little something for everyone. You don’t know which are real and which are imagined.  But one man at the very back of the line, with no one behind him except a distant Jim as he moved through the dining room, swore he felt someone grab his back. That was before Stacey told her story about how Jim felt someone touch him when he was in the shower one night.  Another man said he ‘saw’ a little girl standing next to him in the kitchen…Stacey hasn’t reported any such sightings. There was no doubt chandeliers swung, their little crystals tinkling….everybody saw and heard, and nobody was near.

To me, the most amazing  incident was in the kitchen when Stacey, at the far end of the room, was giving Beulah’s history.  The crowd was mesmerized into stillness and silence. Out of the corner of my eye, in the corner about five feet away from me, Stacey has a three foot tall tiered stand holding kitchen towels. It is black wrought  iron, and each of the tiers is a filigreed basket also of wrought iron, baskets I know, that are not easily moved. What caught by eye was the top basket; it was swinging back and forth. I turned to the woman next to me as she asked, “did you see it?” Not wanting to lead her, I asked “what?”  She whispered, “that basket is swinging.”  The woman next to her, and the two next to her also turned, and from the looks on their faces, you could tell they had seen it too.

stacy with light
PHOTO: Stacey with light

Then, while Stacey was still talking, and we were watching the swinging basket, it suddenly stopped. It didn’t slow down, it simply stopped.  Then the second basket began swinging. Then both swung together. Then they stopped. Abruptly.

It happened on at least two tours each night.

That Phillip had selected a great home on his tour cannot be denied. That the crowd loved Linden Hill and its owners is undisputed. That it was a most unique experience is superfluous to say.

The crowd left happy; Jim and Stacey blew out the candles and turned off the lights. We said good night and I headed to the formal parlor to bed.

Nothing happened. But…..I never slept so soundly in all my life.

Next:  #4.  The Yellow Fever Martyrs Museum