Category Archives: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas

For Whom the Belle Toiled: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, Post 11

Adelicia Acklen, whose skill at manipulating men would have made Scarlet O'Hara seem like a schoolgirl.

Adelicia Acklen, whose skill at manipulating men would have made Scarlet O’Hara seem like a schoolgirl.

Many female devotees of the Late Unpleasantness are great admirers of the fictional heroine of Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara. Her wilfulness, her ability to manipulate men and her all around bitchiness have made her a role model for generations of GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). Outside of Middle Tennessee, however, there are few who know that there was a real life Southern belle whose actual antics put the fictional Scarlet to shame. Her name was Adelicia Acklen, the Mistress of Belmont Mansion.

Not that Adelicia was at all unpleasant or, shall we say bitchy. Oh no; butter would not melt in her mouth; she was a godly woman and prolific progenetrix. And she was very, very wealthy.

Where once rows of magnolias blossomed, today stands Music Row; other vestiges of Adelicia’s estate have also gone with the wind (or kudzu as the case may be) but the mansion she once resided in, Belmont, remains and–at least at Christmastime–so does she.

Adelicia started off her career as a humble country girl in Sumner County, with several thousands of acres of prime farmland and a few dozen champion show horses to her name. Her father was a simple farmer whose wealth could only be counted by a handful of accountants working night and day. However, wealth begets more wealth, and the young and beautiful Adelicia married a prosperous doctor who amplified her estate and sired several children with her. Poor thing, his health was not so strong as her loins and he died prematurely, leaving her a wealthy widow.

Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen, Adelicia's second husband who died in 1863 while looking after their cotton investments along the Mississippi. Adelicia set off through the war torn South to retrieve not Joseph, but her cotton crop. Adelicia's Odyssey through wartime Dixie is the stuff of legends.

Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen, Adelicia’s second husband who died in 1863 while looking after their cotton investments along the Mississippi. Adelicia set off through the war torn South to retrieve not Joseph, but her cotton crop. Adelicia’s Odyssey through wartime Dixie is the stuff of legends.

However, beautiful Adelicia did not long remain a widow.  She remarried, this time to a far wealthier man, Joseph Acklen, who owned large and profitable plantations on the lower Mississippi, all of which produced bountiful crops of cotton.

In due course, Adelicia bore Joseph a bountiful crop of several more children and he in turn built her the magnificent Italianate mansion of Belmont. Sitting on a long sloping hill, one approached Belmont in the old days as if one were ascending Mount Olympus to visit the gods. Downton Abbey would have been a pauper’s hut compared to Belmont in its heyday. All went well, until the War.

Belmont Mansion's modest back yard, ca. 1863.

Belmont Mansion’s modest back yard, ca. 1863.

In February, 1862, Nashville fell to the invading Yankee hordes and the miles between the Rock City and the Acklen cotton plantations in Louisiana were long indeed; for most of the war the area between the two waas a no man’s land in which the various armies marched and fought.

Not long into the conflict, husband Joseph headed south to look after their financial interests along the Mississippi, lest their family fortune be ruined. Adelicia remained home to look after her growing brood of children and her thoroughbred horses.  She was devoted both to her children and her horses.

Then one fateful day came word that her beloved Joseph had died of a fever tending to their cotton (some say it was a carriage accident).

Adelicia sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, saying “What am I to do, what am I to do!” and then it struck her: what about the cotton? Where the hell was it; had it been harvested; was it ready to be shipped—and how?

Adelicia, for all her beauty, was not one to simply fan herself and stand idly by while her family fortune went up in flames. With no further ado, she piled a female cousin and two loyal servants in a carriage and headed into the hundreds of miles of lawless no-mans land, where deserters and robbers and guerillas on both sides would sooner kill you as look at you.

In the end Adelica saved the cotton.  Through cajolery and charm, she shipped it abroad and sold it in England for premium prices, emerging even wealthier than before the war—a feat unique among Southern planters. In the postwar Dixie for many years she was the queen of Southern society and her evening parties and Christmas Balls were legendary. Belmont became the epicenter of the postwar South’s high society.

After she died, the aura of Belmont as a grand and elegant place continued on. It became an aristocratic girl’s finishing school, Ward-Belmont, and ultimately a well respected modern academic institution, Belmont University. But over the years, various alumni and staff have had odd encounters within its august halls, things that cannot be explained by natural causes.

No one has actually seen Adelicia roaming the halls; but on more than one occasion, student, faculty and staff have had fey and uncanny experiences in the mansion, especially at Christmastime, that make them believe she is indeed still inhabiting the old manse.

One of the annual Christmas celebrations at Belmont is called “Hanging of the Green” and the students stage an elaborate ritual revolving around a tall winding staircase. Over the years, students involved in the Yuletide ritual have reported feeling a female presence there, while waiting for the ceremony to begin. Others hear the rustling of crinoline dresses, when no one is there. Other unexplained encounters also occur with uncanny frequency, especially around Christmas.

The front façade of Belmont Mansion, the grand Italianate home of Adelicia Acklen, today home to a Belmont University major Southern University. Adelicia is long dead, but she still roams the old manse's hallways and stairs, especially at Christmastime.

The front façade of Belmont Mansion, the grand Italianate home of Adelicia Acklen, today it is home to a Belmont University, a prestigious major Southern University. Adelicia is long dead, but she still roams the old manse’s hallways and stairs, they say, especially at Christmastime.

So, do Adelicia and other members of her ghostly clan really still inhabit the august halls of Belmont Mansion?

Go there sometime and find out for yourself.

For more about Belmont Mansion and its ghostly guests, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground; Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee will also you tell you more about the areas favorite haunts. Belmont Mansion is located at 1700 Acklen Avenue
Nashville, TN 37212 and is open to the public: cf. http://belmontmansion.com/

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

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The Ship of Yule: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, 9

The doomed schooner Rouse Simmons, known as The Christmas Tree Ship.

The doomed schooner Rouse Simmons, known as The Christmas Tree Ship.

In his famous ballad, The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot posed the question, “does anyone know where to love of God goes, when the gales of November come early?” The sad fact is that not only that ship, but many other vessels that ply the Great Lakes have fallen prey to the unpredictable weather that besets the great northern waters. No fate was more sad, nor more tragic, nor its aftermath more eerie, that the doom of the Christmas Tree Ship.

For many years it was a tradition on the northern waters that one or another schooner, or similar sailing craft, would sail north, cut a load of fragrant fresh evergreens and then sail southward to Chicago to eager families awaiting the ship’s arrival to put up a tree in their home. It was a long-standing tradition and the arrival of the Christmas Tree Ship came to be an annual ritual in Chicagoland, and its arrival always marked the beginning of the Christmas season there.

November of 1912 started off no different than any other year. The schooner Rouse Simmons that year made the journey to the northlands, where the crew cut the trees and hauled them onboard, ‘til the deck was stacked high with them. The skipper, Herman Schuenemann, was known locally as “Captain Santa:” a gruff old salt, he had a heart of gold and sold his trees direct to the people on the docks, even giving some free to the needy who had not the money to buy them.

That November was a particularly bountiful harvest. They say some worried deckhands asked the captain if they may have cut too many, to which he is said to have replied, “don’t worry boys, the folks waiting on the Clark Street docks will buy ‘em all!” They say some of the sailors, looking at the red sunset on the horizon, refused to take ship with Captain Santa and stayed behind.

On November 23, 1912 the good ship Rouse Simmons set sail, rounding the Upper Peninsula and making its way south towards Chicago. They were making good time, they say, when foul winter hit. It was one of those gales that Gordon Lightfoot warned about; high winds bearing cold, cold air and more snow and ice than you would expect at that time of the year. The rigging became encased in crystal sheaths and impossible to use, while the sails were torn to shreds by the howling icy winds. Top heavy with trees, the ship was listing to one side when folks along the shores of Lake Michigan caught sight of her.

Folk near Two Rivers, Wisconsin, could see the crew from shore, begging and pleading for help. Though it was worth a man’s life to try, the folks on shore launched a boat to rescue the crew. They caught a glimpse of the ship in the tossing seas, but then it became lost to view. Amidst the fog, the snow and the sleet, they couldn’t find the missing ship and returned to shore, lest they too share its doom.

Weighed down with ice-laden trees on deck, taking water and her sails in tatters, the Rouse Simmons went down off the coast of Wisconsin. But though she disappeared between the waves that year, that was not the last folk on the lakes saw of her. For weeks after the ship went down, the ship and its skipper kept being sighted on the lake, and well into December she was expected to land any day, simply delayed at some port, they thought. What those folk saw on the lake has never been explained, as the Rouse Simmons by that time was on the lake bottom with all her crew.

Like any good Flying Dutchman, however, there are continuing reports of an old three-masted schooner sighted on stormy nights, especially in late November; but the ship over the years has continued to send physical reminders as well.

For years afterwards, pieces of Christmas Trees would wash ashore or come up in fishermen’s nets on Lake Michigan. One time, a message in a bottle washed up ashore, supposedly the last message from Captain Santa. Another time, a local fishing boat hauled up in its nets the wallet of Captain Santa himself. Somehow, the good ship Rouse Simmons just would not go away.

True, divers did eventually find the wreck at the bottom of the lake, but no sign of the crew was found aboard, and reports of a ghostly sailing ship, tossed upon angry inland seas continue to be told. Who knows, perhaps some day, some way, the ghosts of Captain Santa and his crew will finally make it back to port in time for Christmas.

For more classic ghost stories, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Dixie Spirits, and my latest book, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

The Haunting of Hampton Court: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, 8

A favorite haunt since Elizabethan times, Hampton Court is host to its own Christmas ghost.

A favorite haunt since Elizabethan times, Hampton Court is host to its own Christmas ghost.

In old London town, down where the richer sort cavort, lies Hampton Court Palace. It actually started as a grange—barn—for the Knights of St. John or Knights Hospitallers. After various and sundry changes, it eventually became the palace of the famous cleric turned politician, Cardinal Wolsey. When he fell out of favor with Henry VIII it changed hands again and it became the King’s palace. Since then it has seen many turbulent times and not a few tragedies.

Today, Hampton Court is one of the many notable tourist attractions London has to offer. But when visitors aren’t looking, strange things happen at Hampton. Security guards at the palace not infrequently find doors that have been closed, strangely open a short time later.

Finally, one Christmas, the cause of the strange occurrences was discovered. On closed circuit security cameras the heavy palace doors can be seen flying open; at first nothing is seen on screen, but soon the spooky cause appears.

Henry VIII wived It merrily at Hampton Court-- and perhaps his ghost still haunts it at Yuletide.

Henry VIII wived It merrily at Hampton Court– and perhaps his ghost still haunts it at Yuletide.

 

A robed figure, out of nowhere is seen pulling the doors shut again. Who the Christmas ghost may be is not known; some say Cardinal Wolsey, others Henry VIII himself; other later denizens have been suggested.

Despite the best attempts of the professional debunkers, no one has yet explained away the presence of the Christmas ghost in Hampton Court.

For more haunting tales told for true, read Dixie Spirits and Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

A compendium of strange, unexplained and uncanny events and places throughout the South.

A compendium of strange, unexplained and uncanny events and places throughout the South.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

The Dying Rebel: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, 6

Captain Todd Carter, CSA, whose ghost still haunts the ancestral home at Yuletide.

Captain Todd Carter, CSA, whose ghost still haunts the ancestral home at Yuletide.

While I have written about this haunting before, notably in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, and briefly in passing in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, it does fit in with the current theme of this blog, as it is most certainly a Yuletide ghost. So for those of you who have read my books, please forgive the redundancy; but as I’m sure there are many who haven’t yet, please bear with me.

We must go back more than one hundred fifty years, to the ill-fated Autumn Campaign of 1864, which was the last gasp of the Confederacy. In a bold maneuver the gallant Army of Tennessee marched northward, even as Sherman’s marched southward to burn and pillage their way to the sea. The idea was to capture Nashville, restock the Confederate army there with the abundant warehouses full of supplies and then chase the Yankees back into Kentucky, take Louisville, burn Cincinnati and hopefully make the North sue for peace. Perhaps it was a vain and hopeless quest to start with; or perhaps in the hands of a better general than John Bell Hood, it just may have had a chance for success.

A sketch of the open fields the Rebels had to charge over--a longer distance than Pickett's Charge. via Harpers

A sketch of the open fields the Rebels had to charge over–a longer distance than Pickett’s Charge. via Harpers

In any case, after several delays and missed opportunities, the Rebel army lay before the town of Franklin, less than a days march from Nashville. In their way stood two Yankee corps, doing their best to avoid being annihilated by Hood, yet still stall the Rebels advance on Nashville. Just the night before the Yankees, under General John Schofield, had escaped from the trap set them near Springhill, escaping in the dark and filtering into Franklin by the dawn’s early light.

In a rage Hood pursued, ready to attack anyone and anything that dared get in his way. On the southern outskirts of Franklin the Yankees had been entrenching all day, posting their cannon and rearguard behind trench and wall to keep the Rebs at bay. Hood was advised to simply go around the town and outflank the rearguard; to use his cavalry to cut them to ribbons on the road into Nashville; but he would hear none of it. Attack, he said; the enemy is before us; attack!

The Battle of Franklin, September 30, 1864

The Battle of Franklin, September 30, 1864

And so, late on the afternoon of November 30, 1864, even as the sun was westering on the horizon, the gallant Army of Tennessee advance over a broad plain of cleared fields, marching as if on parade and fully exposed to the deadly rifle and cannon fire of the enemy. They talk about Pickett’s charge being an ill conceived attack at Gettysburg; it had nothing over the charge at Franklin, where the distance to cover was far greater and equally clear of cover. Yet the men advance behind their colonels and brigadiers, some quietly reciting the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” with its refrain, “someone had blundered.”

Among this band of brothers in butternut was one who knew the ground well. Todd Carter had grown up in Franklin, and like his older brothers, had volunteered for service in the Confederacy. As quartermaster of his regiment, he was not required in the front lines; but there he was nonetheless, advancing with the rest. Half a league, half a league onward the army advance, with shot and shell growing fiercer and more accurate as they closed with the Yankee lines, whose center lay just before the carter home.

Confederate troops charging the Yankees at Franklin, by a veteran.

Confederate troops charging the Yankees at Franklin, by a veteran.

With a blood-curdling yell the Rebels rushed the Yankee defenses which sat astride the Columbia Pike and for a crucial few minutes it seemed as though they might win the day. In the end, however, they were forced back from the parapets, and though the fighting continued on into the darkness, despite the Rebel soldiers best efforts, the enemy slipped away in the night.

The side of the Carter House in Franklin still pock-marked with hundreds of bullet holes. It was here Capt. Carter was brought home to die.

The side of the Carter House in Franklin still pock-marked with hundreds of bullet holes. It was here Capt. Carter was brought home to die.

The next morning, the carnage was ghastly to behold; men heaped in piles, horses, five generals and twenty colonels lay among their men; fully a third of the Confederate army dead or wounded—among the Captain Todd Carter. His family found him lying close to the Union lines, shot more than once, but still clinging to life. They brought him home, put him in a room in the rear of the house and nursed him as best they could.

Todd Carter was alive, but his wounds were serious. He lingered to life for a few days; but the wounds were too serious and he finally died. He was waked in the front parlor of his home and buried nearby in the family plot. But though he was buried, he was hardly laid to rest.

Todd Carter lingered in his father's home for weeks before he died. His ghost lingers there still.

Todd Carter lingered in his father’s home for weeks before he died. His ghost lingers there still.

For every year, about the time of his wounding and death, visitors will report seeing a young man, all bandaged up, in that room in the rear ell where he lay before dying.

I have been to the Carter House and seen the hundreds and hundreds of bullet holes still in the brick and wood; I have been to the room where Todd Carter died, and while I saw no ghost, I felt his presence nonetheless.

So if you go, let me know, if you see the yuletide ghost of Todd Carter.

For more on the ghost of Todd Carter and other Civil War ghosts of Franklin, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and the latest, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South.

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South.

The Christmas Picket: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, 5

Valerius Cincinnatus Giles, was in northern Virginia when he had his uncanny encounter on Christmas Day, 1861.

Valerius Cincinnatus Giles, was in northern Virginia when he had his uncanny encounter on Christmas Day, 1861.

It was the twenty-fifth of December, 1861. A nineteen year old private in the Confederate army, Valerius Cincinnatus Giles, was out on guard detail along the Potomac River, facing the Yankees of General Sickles’ New York Brigade on the Maryland side.

As a picket, his duty was give the alarm of any enemy activity, lest the Yankees should decide the comfort of their warm huts and brave the bleak cold outside. Private Giles’ unit, a detachment of the 4th Texas Infantry, had just relieved another unit which had been guarding that sector. The men would rather have been back in camp, enjoying the holiday as best they could; but duty called, and someone needed to be on duty, no matter what the day.

Private Giles and his two brothers had all answered the call of duty and volunteered for the Confederate army. Giles, still smartly dressed in his long grey frock coat with black waist belt and black strap over his right shoulder, and adorned with a black Hardee hat with one side turned up, looked the model of a military man. One of Giles’s brothers was with the Tenth Texas Infantry in Arkansas, while the other, brother Lew, was with Terry’s Rangers (Eighth Texas Cavalry), somewhere in Kentucky.

There was little likelihood of any Valerius being in any personal danger; the Yankees desired a break from war that day as much as the Rebels. That afternoon there was a brief to-do when a Yankee steamboat came in sight. But it was soon recognized as a hospital ship and not a gunboat and was left alone to ply it trade on the opposite shore.

More out of boredom than necessity, Private Giles began to walk his post, tramping through snow knee deep in places. The colder clime of northern Virginia was a change of scene for the Texas boy and there in the piney woods in midwinter, when the earth and green branches of the trees were covered with snow, there was no sound of birds singing or crickets chirping. With not a breath of air blowing, the stillness all around him seemed oppressive.

Valerius’s thoughts naturally started to wander, thinking about his home and family members on that Christmas Day. It was at four p.m. that afternoon when he heard it. He remembered that he was not sleepy or drowsy and perfectly wide awake when he heard it. He heard his brother Lew Giles’s voice, clear as day, calling out his name:

“It was then 4 P.M., December 25, 1861. I was not sleeping or dreaming. and firmly believed at the time that I heard my brother calling me, but it must have been a delusion of the imagination.”

Knowing Lew was far away to the west in either Kentucky or Tennessee, Val thought at first that somehow it was just his homesickness playing on his imagination; that it was some kind of delusion. Yet he knew his brother’s voice and knew that the voice he had heard was his brother’s.

It was only later that Val learned that Lew had been wounded at the Battle of Mumfordville, in Kentucky, on the seventeenth of December. Seriously injured, he had been taken to Gallatin, Tennessee, to the home of a family friend, where he lingered for several days.

Wartime image of Gallatin, Tennessee, which changed hands several times during the War.  Lew Giles died here the same day he appeared to his brother in Virginia.

Wartime image of Gallatin, Tennessee, which changed hands several times during the War. Lew Giles died here the same day he appeared to his brother in Virginia.

 

According to information the family later received from their father’s friend in Gallatin, Lew Giles expired at exactly four p.m. on Christmas Day of 1861.

 

 

 

For more true Civil War ghost stories, see: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, available online or at better bookstores.

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War.  True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Emily Meet Heathcliff: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, 4

Emily Bronte was a brilliant writer who died young. Her novel, Wuthering Heights is considered a masterpiece--creepy, but a masterpiece nonetheless.

Emily Bronte was a brilliant writer who died young. Her novel, Wuthering Heights is considered a masterpiece–creepy, but a masterpiece nonetheless.

Blame it all on Dickens, I suppose, but I seem to have Yuletide English ghosts on my mind of late. How about a ghost named Emily? And where better to meet her than on the Yorkshire Moors?

Emily Bronte is perhaps the best known of that literary sorority, the Bronte Sisters, famous for her creepy supernatural romance, Wuthering Heights. Although a classic of literature, for many years it was out of favor (at least with the male gender) but as creepy supernatural romances have come back in vogue, this grandmother of all creepy romances has of course come into its own. That so morbidly romantic a mind could dream this tale up, it should not be surprising, that this nineteenth century authoress should haunt the very landscape she wrote about.

Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights when she was only 27 years old. Set in the Yorkshire Moors she knew so well, it is a novel full of mood, yearning and secrets–and did I say, creepiness? Emily died only three years after writing her masterpiece, in that same rural Yorkshire countryside. Like her novel, hers was a life full of unfulfilled Victorian desires.

Emily Bronte is said to walk in the gardens of her former home in the Yorkshire village of Haworth. She only can be seen there between December 19th and January 2, closely coinciding to Yuletide season. Those who have seen her say she is deep in thought.  And of course what stroll on the Yorkshire Moor is not complete without encountering a Devil Dog?  This would be the “Gytrash” a phantom demon canine said to haunt Ponden Hall, where the Bronte sisters used to hang out.

Legend has it that Emily wrote a book even greater than Wuthering Heights but that it disappeared soon after her death.  Rumor has it that she wanders the moors looking for the lost manuscript and that until it is found her literary spirit will find no rest.

If one approaches her, she vanishes like a puff of smoke. So the beautiful young girl remains forever out of reach–even if your name be Heathcliff.

Happy holiday hauntings!

For more true ghost stories, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Dixie Spirits, and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

“With ‘er ‘ead tucked underneather ‘er arms”: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, 3

Ann Bolyn, who lost her head at the king's whim. She haunts many a English palace, but only her home of Hever at Yuletide.

Ann Bolyn, who lost her head at the king’s whim. She haunts many a English palace, but only her home of Hever at Yuletide.

With the ghost of Charles Dickens still fresh off the Word Press, another famous English ghost quickly comes to mind: Ann Bolyn. One of Henry the Eighth’s less fortunate ex’s, he had her beheaded, supposedly because she was unfaithful.

In truth, there are in fact a number of places in England where her ghost has been seen–in most cases lacking a head on her shoulders.

But wherever she may roam throughout the year, at Christmastime she returns to her ancestral home of Hever Castle, in Kent.

Whether she haunts this castle as the others, “with er ead tucked underneath er arms” is not certain; but we prefer to think not. She comes home to Hever for the holidays, so perhaps that is why she is on her best behavior here.

What is certain is that on Christmas Eve she can be seen walking across the bridge of the River Eden and onto the castle grounds. Perhaps for one night out of the year she may find rest there.

For more true ghost stories, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Dixie Spirits, and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; all are available at better book stores.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.