Friday, August 29, 2014

Spirit in the House

Mrs. Keever's house
When John and Donna purchased the 2-story Georgian-style home in Ennis, Texas that day in 1980, they had no idea they would soon be living with the former owner. The problem was, she had died several years before.

The couple had decided they wanted to get away from the crowds and temptations of the big city of Dallas and raise their son, Kevin, in a calmer, quieter place. They had been looking for several months when they found the house on Knox Street in Ennis, a small city about 35 miles from Dallas. Sitting on a large, nicely landscaped lot, it was one of the larger homes in the neighborhood. Painted gray with white trim and forest green shutters, John and Donna both fell in love with it. 

The house had sat vacant for several years, but the real estate company had kept it well maintained. The asking price had steadily dropped and the couple couldn't figure out why such a nice home had not yet sold. Before deciding to make an offer, they visited the house several times and for some reason, on each visit Donna became nauseated and had a feeling of unease, but she thought it was just nerves over contemplating purchasing a house that would strain their budget. They also found it strange that the real estate agent who showed the property would never go inside the house, but would wait in his car or stand on the sidewalk by the street. He always told them to take their time and look around. John and Donna chalked it up to just the real estate's odd personality.

The house was built in 1920 by master carpenters hired by Mr. J. E. Keever, a well respected businessman who owned the local mortuary and funeral home. Every detail of the home was custom made. All of the cherry wood cabinets, doors and trim were hand-made on site. There were three bedrooms upstairs and a sleeping porch downstairs. There was a large living room, formal dinning room, and a library with built-in bookcases, but the real gem of the downstairs was the very large kitchen. This room was actually a kitchen, walk-in pantry, breakfast room, sun room and laundry room all in one. Donna loved it and this more than anything else made her want the house for her and her family.

After several weeks of thinking about it, John and Donna made a low-ball offer for the house. To their surprise, the offer was quickly accepted. Right after they had signed all of the paperwork finalizing the sale, the salesman muttered, "Welcome to Amityville." That movie had been released a short time before and everyone knew what it was about. John asked the salesman, "What do you mean? What are you talking about?" He replied, "You'll soon find out." He then agreed however, for the first time, to enter the house with them to do the final walk-through.

After a few minutes of standing in the living room, the salesman said, "I believe she likes you." Donna asked, "who is 'she'?" Again, his answer was a cryptic, "You'll soon find out." He then told them that his wife and a lot of other people refused to go into the house, but he had a feeling John and Donna would be acceptable to her. They couldn't get him to explain further what he was talking about or exactly who "she" was, but the walk-through showed the house to be in good working order so as quickly as they could they ushered him out of the door and their new home. It wasn't hard as the strange man seemed ready to bolt at any moment anyway.

Within a few days of moving in and getting things out of boxes and in their proper place, strange things began to happen which led John and Donna to believe the house was occupied by a spirit. At odd hours, there would be unexplained banging noises from the kitchen and upon inspection, various cabinet doors would be found standing open. A previous owner had painted over the cherry wood cabinets with an ugly yellow latex paint. When John and Donna began the work of removing the paint and restoring the wood to its original luster, something they had planned to do when they bought it, the strange banging and opening of cabinet doors ceased.

The lights on the front porch then began to turn on and off by themselves. Upon close investigation, it was discovered that what the couple assumed were cheap black and fake stained-glass lamps were actually solid rose-brass lamps with expensive leaded glass stained windows. Someone had simply spray painted the brass black. They began the task of removing the spray paint and then had the brass refinished. They then had gleaming porch lights at the front door with no problem of turning off and on by themselves.

After doing a lot of investigation and talking to neighbors and other townspeople, John and Donna came to the conclusion they did indeed have a spirit living with them and that spirit was none other than the proud and possessive Mrs. Keever, former mistress of the house. They came to the conclusion she simply wanted her home to be as beautiful as it once was and did not approve of the changes that had been done to it over the years. Donna said she felt like they had been guided, compelled even, in each task they took to restore the home to its former beauty.

Mrs. Keever had loved to entertain and show off her fine house which had been the scene of frequent social occasions and open houses. John and Donna frequently smelled roses as they walked around their home even though there were no roses blooming during the winter and there was nothing to account for the smell. Donna hated room fragrance and refused to allow it in the home, but she discovered roses were Mrs. Keever's favorite flower and she always wore tea rose perfume.

Donna and John had a number of family members and friends that would come and stay with them for the weekend, sleeping in the downstairs sleeping porch. Often guests would ask Donna if she had come downstairs the previous night after they had gone to bed and walked around checking all the doors to ensure they were locked. They said they had seen the dark shadow of someone walking around and had heard footsteps. They also heard what sounded like doorknobs being jiggled as if someone were checking to make sure they were securely locked. When she told them it was "just Mrs. Keever checking to make sure everything was ok," they wouldn't believe it really wasn't her.

When they first moved into the home, their son Kevin was just 4 years old. He was the only one whom Mrs. Keever interacted with and purposely showed herself. Within the first few days, Kevin told his mom that a lady in white had come to his room to visit him during the night. John and Donna figured it was just a child's imagination, but over the next several years as Kevin continued to report "the woman in white" visiting him during the night and even telling of conversations she had with him, John and Donna began to believe him. Kevin was never frightened of the apparition and Donna figured Mrs. Keever, the mother of two sons herself, was simply happy to have a little boy in the house again.

Occasionally running into unexplained cold spots while walking around the house and hearing footsteps and noises at all hours didn't bother Donna all that much, but there was one place in the house that made her extremely uncomfortable. The area beneath the stairs was a small storage room which always smelled musty and moldy. It contained a number of boxes, but Donna couldn't bring herself to go in to open them and find out what they contained. Even John said he didn't feel right going in there and Donna became physically sick every time she forced herself to get even a few inches inside. She felt an overwhelming sense that she was trespassing. The door to the room would sometimes fling itself open and when this happened, they both could sense something very unsettling had come out. A new locking latch was put on the door, but the door still managed to come open. John even stacked heavy bricks in front of the door, but every couple of months, they would return home or wake up to find the bricks knocked over, the latch unhooked and the door open.

Several years after moving into the house, Donna became good friends with a young woman named Rebecca who was studying for her master's degree in theology at Texas Christian University's seminary in Fort Worth in preparation for going into the ministry. Part of the program required work as a pastor each weekend and Rebecca found a small church in Ennis to preach at each Sunday. To save the expense of a hotel, Donna invited Rebecca to stay with the family. The very first night she spent in the guest sleeping porch, a bloodcurdling scream was heard throughout the house. John and Donna rushed downstairs to find their guest sitting upright in bed with a terrified look on her face. John asked her what was wrong, but Rebecca answered, "Who screamed? It wasn't me!" After looking around the house and not finding anything wrong, they all went back to bed. The scream was not heard again that night or any other, but Rebecca reported in the morning that she hadn't been able to sleep all night as she kept hearing footsteps and seeing a dark human-like shadow walking back and forth across the room. She also reported becoming almost sick from the overwhelming smell of roses. Rebecca had no idea of what was happening since Donna had never told her about the strange things that went on in their house and she was not from the area so she had never heard the rumors and stories. 

Rebecca got in touch with a Reverend D. Smart who was an Episcopal priest in Ennis. She told him of the terror filled night in John and Donna's house and asked him to perform a "house blessing." Reverend Smart had heard the stories about a spirit in that house so it wasn't hard to convince him of the need. Several days later, he brought his holy water, incense and a cross to bless the house which would hopefully release the spirit to go on to the next level.

The blessing evidently worked as there was no more contact with Mrs. Keever afterwards. No more cold spots, no more footsteps in the night were heard, no more smell of roses, and the door to the storage room under the stairs stayed closed even after John had removed the bricks in front of the door several months later. When Donna dared to open the storage door after he had removed the bricks, she was shocked to find the musty odor had disappeared, though she still couldn't bring herself to venture in and open the boxes. They were convinced Mrs. Keever had moved on, right up until the time when they were talking about her being gone in front of Kevin. The boy told them, "No, she's not gone. She still comes to talk to me at night sometimes."

Current owners say they do not believe the house
is haunted and enjoy living there.
John and Donna eventually sold the house in Ennis and moved back to Dallas. They were not driven out by the spirit; they simply missed their friends and family back in Dallas and they missed the shopping and cultural activities they had grown to take for granted while living there. They just weren't cut out to be small town folks after all. Donna will tell you they love being back with family and friends close by, but they miss that 2-story Georgian home. Sometimes they even miss Mrs. Keever.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Phantom Horses of Palo Duro

Palo Duro Canyon
In late summer of 1874, Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Kiowa warriors left their reservations to hunt and bring back food for their women and children who stayed behind on their reservations. They made their winter camp within the Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle of Texas. There they began stockpiling the food and supplies they had managed to gather. 

General Ronald MacKenzie and a large number of troops from of the 4th U.S. Cavalry using paid Tonkawa scouts had orders to force the renegade Indians back to the reservations in Indian Territory. After several skirmishes with small parties of Comanches which resulted in about 15 Indian dead, MacKenzie's scouts were able to track the larger band to Palo Duro. From the rim, they could see the camps of the Indians spread in groups along the canyon floor.

After finding passable trails down into the canyon, early on the morning of September 28, MacKenzie's forces attempted to make a surprise attack, but a Comanche lookout spotted the soldiers and fired a warning shot before he was killed. The alerted Indians were able to flee from the charging troops by climbing up the steep canyon walls, but only a few of them managed to make it out on one of their horses. Many of them turned and fired on the soldiers from the canyon rim, but only 1 soldier was killed and 1 wounded. In the one sided fight, between 50 and 60 Indians were killed and the troops and their scouts captured all of the Indian's supplies and almost 2,000 horses.

Following MacKenzie's orders, all of the Indian lodges were pulled down, the hides were slashed and the lodge poles were broken and all of the food and other supplies were destroyed. After giving 30 of the captured ponies to the lead Tonkawa scout and 300 more to be divided among the rest of the scouts as a bonus, the remaining horses, about 1,400, were herded up to the plains above the canyon and slaughtered. After the buzzards and other wildlife ate the flesh, the huge pile of sun-bleached bones served as a trail marker for many years. With their horses, tepees, supplies and food gone, most of the Indians who escaped were forced to return to the reservation.

Rim of Palo Duro Canyon
A short time later, a party of 3 men came into Fort Concho and told of hearing a great herd of phantom horses stampeding along the rim of the canyon where they made camp one night. They were accused of telling a wildly imaginative story, but over the years, more people began reporting the same tale. 

On certain bright moonlit nights, it begins with a distant noise. As it gets nearer and swells in volume, it becomes clearly identifiable as the thunder of hundreds and hundreds of horse hooves. Then the specters appear - beautiful, ghostly pinto horses galloping at full speed along the canyon rim. Within a few seconds, the translucent horses and the noise abruptly vanish leaving nothing but a chilling silence. 

The large pile of bones are gone and few of the witnesses know of the long ago battle, but they have just seen the ghosts of horses massacred by soldiers in their effort to disable the Plains Indian tribes, horses destined to forever run where they were slain along the rim of Palo Duro Canyon.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mount Holly Cemetery

Cemeteries speak to the living. The rows upon rows of graves marked by headstones, monuments and effigies remind us that we will follow. Sooner or later, we will follow. 

The word "cemetery" comes from a Greek word meaning "sleeping chamber." The term "graveyard" is  considered coarse terminology for where the dead are buried. Death sounds so final and permanent when "graveyard" is used, but a "sleeping chamber" is comforting and soft. In a cemetery, when the body is lowered into the ground, you can comfort yourself with the thought that the dearly departed is merely sleeping until you meet again.  Resembling a calm, restful park with cut grass, shade trees and walkways, some cemeteries seem to welcome us to drop by and visit before we come to stay.

Mount Holly Cemetery is Little Rock, Arkansas's oldest graveyard and the final resting place for many of the state's past leaders, governors, mayors, and Supreme Court Justices. Civil War generals, an Indian Princess, a spy who was hung and other souls from all walks of life are all in their final rest here. But for some, "rest" doesn't appear to be anything they are interested in doing.

While within the 20 acres of the fenced and walled cemetery, visitors have reported hearing flute music, drumbeats, and horse hooves with the sound fading away as it proceeds between the rows of headstones.  They often report a feeling of being watched even though they can see there there is no one else there. After the sun goes down, the massive obelisks, ornate mausoleums, gated plots and narrow carriage-rutted lanes make it almost impossible for the mind to not see movement where there shouldn't be, shadows flitting around and ghostly figures slowly drifting in the ground fog. What is even more disturbing though, all these things sometimes happen in broad daylight also. Almost from the very beginning of its existence in 1843, there have been reports of odd things happening there - too many unrelated individuals, too many independent reports of things not easily explained to simply dismiss them all as pure imagination.

Residents in nearby apartments have reported seeing gravestones appear in their yards only to disappear into thin air even as they watch. One lady and her husband moved from out of state into one of the apartments across the street from Mount Holly. The couple had no previous knowledge of anything related to the cemetery. Just 1 week after moving in, the lady went to call in her cat from outside before going to bed for the night. When she opened her front door, she was shocked to see a huge, seemingly very solid 12-foot high grave marker standing upright just 3 feet from her steps. Thinking it must be a prank being pulled by local teenagers, she ran back inside to get her husband. They both returned to the door not 60 seconds later and as they watched in confusion, the marker slowly disappeared as a very cold draft of air wafted over them. They then noticed their kitty was standing at the edge of the porch facing the now vanished marker, its fur up, hissing. The next morning, they made their way around the cemetery and found the marker on the old grave of a wealthy business man. It was made of limestone 1-foot thick and estimated to weigh over 1,800 pounds.

David Dodd grave marker and area of most
paranormal activity in the graveyard
In 1864, The Union Army which was in control of Little Rock, hung a 17-year-old suspected Confederate spy, David O. Dodd. The area around his Mount Holly grave has long been reported as the most frequent place where visitors walk into cold spots even on a hot summer day, where often is felt an overwhelming sense of despair and sadness, and even in the bright light of day, moaning and choking sounds can be heard. You see, when David was hung on that cold winter day, the rope was new and therefore it stretched, the condemned was slight in stature, and the distance from the bed of the wagon to the ground wasn't far enough. Instead of breaking his neck and a quick, merciful death, the condemned's tiptoes touched the dirt and he slowly strangled, struggling and jerking for almost 5 minutes. Women observers and a few men became sick and at least one battle-hardened soldier fainted. Finally, two of the enemy soldiers took pity or maybe they just couldn't stand to watch the spectacle any more themselves and each grabbed one of the hanging legs and pulled down, adding weight to hasten his death. Is it any wonder that David's soul cannot rest?

Also in 1864, the bodies of 640 Confederate soldiers who had been killed in battles were dug up and, along with their headstones, moved to a different cemetery across town. Disturbing the dead by moving their bodies has long been believed to be a reason for ghostly activities. It seems to upset them, to confuse them. Even those souls who are apparently resting in peace after accepting their new home where they are buried appear to be confused and angry when their bodies are moved. Relocating 640 of them was like kicking a fire ant nest - a frenzy of paranormal activity was started which has yet to cease.

Go for a visit yourself. Walk the quiet, shaded paths and read history in the headstones and markers of the dead. Don't be afraid. Unexplainable things usually don't happen in the daylight hours. Not much anyway. I wouldn't tarry when the sun begins to set though. Mount Holly, you see, is one of those weird, unsettling places where the dividing line between the land of the living and the realm of the dead blurs. And who knows what might cross over that line?