Monday, March 12, 2018

The Curious Stain at the Bottom of the Stairs

There is a mansion on Highway 14 about two miles west of Marion, Alabama known as Carlisle Hall. The house is rather unusual; a combination of Romanesque arches with a Japanese temple-type hanging copper roof and a Moorish balcony rail, all combined in a Gothic design.

Edwin Carlisle, a prosperous cotton merchant, had the plans drawn up in 1857 and the mansion was built between 1858 and 1859 on his 440 acre plantation. He and his family moved into the house in 1860. After he died in 1873, the house was sold several times to new owners, all of whom only stayed a short time. In the early 1900’s the last owners simply abandoned it and left the area.

Soon afterward, local residents began talking about a blue lantern light that could be seen through the windows of the bedroom originally occupied by Edwin Carlisle. There were also rumors of ghostly footsteps being heard coming down the stairs and what sounded like the swish of petticoats. People thought it must have been Carlisle’s daughter who, toward the end of the Civil War, had fallen in love with a Yankee colonel, one of the Northern occupation troops stationed in the area after the Confederate troops had been driven out. Any time he came calling, the young Miss Carlisle would rush down the stairs to greet him in the parlor. Evidently, she continued to do so long after the war and the lives of the lovers were over.

In the late 1930’s, the home was purchased by a retired naval officer named A. S. Hill. He began to repair the structure, but he never got to spend even one night there as before the work was completed, America entered World War II and Mr. Hill came out of retirement and went off to fight. Sadly, his ship was sunk by an enemy submarine and he didn’t return.

Mr. W. E. Belcher purchased the home next, but he spent all his time traveling and the house fell further into disrepair. Vandals broke in and stole furniture, paintings, books, and anything else of value. They shattered all 56 windows and several leaded Venetian glass masterpieces above the staircase. They ripped the banister apart and chopped into pieces the 6 marble fireplace mantels. They even dug up trees on the property and uprooted plantings in the formerly beautiful flower beds.

When Mr. Belcher returned from one of his trips overseas and saw the condition of the house, he hired a family to live in it. They were to protect the property  and to make repairs as they could while the house was up for sale. Within two weeks though, the caretaker family’s only child, a toddler, was killed when he fell down the stairs splitting his little head open and leaving a bloody stain on the floor where he landed.  After the child was buried, they left after telling a few people about seeing old Mr. Carlisle walking the upstairs hallway at night and seeing his daughter gliding down the same staircase that had killed their beloved son.

After that tragedy, the house was abandoned until the 1950’s when it was rescued by a teacher, Kay Klassen, who bought it just before it was condemned by the authorities and torn down.  She and her parents spent 7 years in restoration and modernization work, including sanding and repairing the wooden floors. During this time, they searched all over the South for period furnishings, mantels, and chandeliers to replace those that had been destroyed. When they were finished, everyone agreed they had managed to bring the old place back to its glory days.

Ms. Klassen said she never saw Mr. Carlisle, his daughter or any unexplained lights. The only thing that couldn’t be explained was a section of the flooring that had a nasty stain. She would wash and sand it until the stain was gone, but within several days, it would return. She finally had to cut the section out and replace the wood. Today, if you look really close, you can see where the replacement is located – at the foot of the stairs right where a dying baby’s cries had been heard years and years ago.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Evil Bell Witch

Sarah Bell was only six years old the first time it happened. She was standing behind her mother who was washing dishes in the kitchen sink when she floated up in the air. “Momma. Help me, Momma!” When little Sarah’s mom turned to look, her baby girl was floating two feet into the air, held up by her long, auburn hair. Her face was stretched taught by the pull on her scalp. By all rights, she should have been screaming, but she just kept begging in a plaintive voice, “Momma, please help me!”

Her mother grabbed her by the waist and pulled down. The force holding Sarah in the air was strong, but with a mighty pull, mother and daughter fell to the floor. They were laying there when Mr. Will Bell, husband and father, ran into the room, alarmed by the commotion. “What happened here?” “Something got ahold of Sarah! It was invisible, but it was something evil, Will!” If Mr. Bell had any doubts, they were quickly erased when one side of the heavy dining table lifted a foot into the air before gently settling back down.

The Bell family, Will and Martha with Katie and three other children had come by wagon from Illinois to eastern Tennessee and settled on land he had purchased for farming. It’s unknown whether the Bell witch followed them or if they built their cabin on already haunted ground. Whatever it was, the witch refused to go away and settled on Sarah as its victim. If Sarah had been bad, you could kind of understand it better, but Sarah had always been a good child, rarely crying even as a baby and never giving her parents reason to punish her. It seems the witch’s spiteful hate was unprovoked and unjustified, but witches don’t have to have a reason for their evil doings.

Rather than staying within the family cabin, the Bell witch followed poor Sarah wherever she went. The pigs would shy away from her, horses spooked, dogs growled and cats would raise their spines and hiss at her before running away. The witch sometimes slept with Sarah, poking her and pulling on her hair preventing her from getting any sleep. When she dressed in the mornings, she learned to shake out her dress as she often found scorpions, ants and even small snakes hidden inside. 

Sarah had always been slender, but soon she was deathly skinny. She never knew when the witch had salted or peppered her food so bad it was not eatable. A slice of meat cut from the same roast or ham the rest of the family ate would often become salt encrusted as soon as it was placed on Sarah’s plate. Sometimes the first few bites would be fine, but then she would spit out the next bite and run screaming from the table. When other family members would taste her serving, they would find it was like tasting a mouthful of salt or pepper. 

It wasn’t long before Sarah seemed to be near death. Her eyelids drooped and her eyes were vacant and stared out from the blackness of many sleepless nights and unrelieved stress. The Bell witch knew her limits though and would cease her torments long enough for Sarah to come back from the brink of death. Her nights went undisturbed and her food tasted normal. The witch would stay gone for so long that Sarah would regain her health and the family would think the evil had passed. But it hadn’t. It would come back. It would always come back.

You may ask, “So why didn’t they move away?” They tried. Several times they tried. Each time though, the witch followed them. They went to a town miles away and stayed in a hotel trying to decide where to move, but the evil doings continued and seemed to even get worse. They traveled back to Illinois and stayed with friends for a while, but the witch was with them there too. They decided moving was useless and went back to their farm.

The days of misery turned into years and eventually, Sarah grew old enough to marry. A young man she met in church fell in love with her in spite of the witchy troubles and asked her to be his bride. The wedding took place in the little wooden church with surprisingly little trouble from the witch. A hymnal flew through the air and slammed against a wall, several hats were knocked off people’s heads by an invisible hand, and the knife that was used to cut the cake flew through the air to imbed itself in the wall just inches from the groom’s mother, but other than that, the wedding went as planned.

Sarah’s father presented them with a sturdy wagon as a wedding gift, a wagon suited for a long-range journey. The happy couple took the hint and left the next day heading to Texas to homestead land for their own farm. For the first few days, the witch continued to bedevil them. Luggage securely tied down would come loose and fall to the ground. Fresh fruit would rot within a day. The horses pulling wagons of other travelers would spook as they passed by. But then, a curios thing happened. As they crossed the boundary into Texas, the witch seemed to weaken. The couple felt as if a heavy veil of evilness was being lifted.
In those days in unsettled Texas, outlaws roamed the land, Indians were protecting their hunting grounds from the pioneers trying to settle on it by killing and scalping and as the newlyweds drove deeper into Texas, the land itself presented challenges. Poisonous snakes were everywhere, biting bugs were plentiful, plants had sharp spikes and even the grass hid stickers large and sharp enough to puncture through heavy leather boots. Perhaps all the meanness that was in Texas was giving the Bell witch competition. By the time Sarah and her husband reached Huntsville, it seemed the evilness of the witch had been worn out by the evilness of Texas. The travelers had no more problems all the way to a spot along a flowing, gentle river in south central Texas where they acquired land, built a home and lived a happy, peaceful life together.
Don’t be fooled though. The Bell witch may have grown tired and weaker, but she didn’t leave the piney woods of east Texas. It lingers there today. When horses spook for no apparent reason, when snakes appear in flour bins, when babies scream at night, they say the Bell witch is the cause, still playing pranks and bullying the weak.
So when you see a child like Sarah, a child with fear and hunger in her eyes, give what you can. A smile, a touch, a friendly nod. And say a prayer for those like Sarah, that the witches and the evilness of the world will let them be.