Editor’s Note: This is the first for a two-part series. Part Two will appear tomorrow morning on HottyToddy.com.
With many homes, buildings, and a university that were built before the Civil War, Oxford is rich with history.
As you take a walk around Oxford’s charming Courthouse Square, or the University of Mississippi’s picturesque campus, it’s not difficult to see why some of the town’s residents may have never left.
Close to campus, on historic University Avenue, stands the Meek-Duvall House.
Constructed in 1878, the house was the first home of newlyweds William and Estelle Faulkner. They rented a portion of the Victorian-style home in 1929 from Ms. Elma Meek, the woman responsible for naming the University’s first student yearbook “Ole Miss.” Eventually, students adopted the name of the annual as a nickname for the University. It has stuck ever since.
Teresa Duvall Flautt and her family first moved into the house in the early 1960‘s. Her father, who grew up down the street, had always heard stories that the house had a permanent resident.
According to Mr. Duvall, this inhabitant was a lady that stood at the top of the staircase in a long black gown.
“I’ll have to say, I never saw her,” Flautt said. “I was always wary, and I did hear a lot of creaks and spooky noises in there.”
As a little girl, it was a common occurrence for Flautt to think that she heard people roaming about the house at night.
“I do specifically remember one thing, and it was scary,” Flautt said. “One night we were all asleep, and I woke up and felt like somebody was walking below me in the dining room. I heard what sounded like somebody coming along the downstairs hall, and then they started coming up the steps. My room was right at the top.”
Flautt recalls that her door was mostly closed, but she was terrified that whatever it was, was making its way to her bedroom.
Fortunately, the footsteps rounded the corner and went down to the front end of the hall where her parents’ and sister’s rooms were located. This brief moment of relief, was followed by a moment of absolute terror.
There, at the end of the hall, was a rocking chair. As young Flautt sat petrified with fear in her bed, she began to hear another sound. The eerie, creaking of the antique rocker as it moved to and fro against the floorboards.
“That was when I knew something was in that rocking chair, and I screamed,” Flautt said. “My parents screamed because they were right there, and they heard it. We all jumped up and ran out of our rooms, and, of course, nothing was there, but the fact that I heard it and they heard it made me realize that I wasn’t just totally imagining that.”
Flautt and her sister sold the home in 1997, but to this day, that chilling experience is embedded in their minds.
Perhaps the most well known haunting in the Oxford community is located at the home of acclaimed author William Faulkner. Nestled at the end of a gravel driveway amongst towering cedar and magnolia trees rests antebellum “Rowan Oak.”
Built by Colonel Robert Sheegog in 1844, the white, Greek Revival-style house has been preserved just as Faulkner left it, and upon setting foot on to the property, visitors may feel as though they are taking a step back in time.
“When Faulkner moved in, in 1930, he did a major renovation of the house, but he didn’t do anything to the concentric garden or the grounds in front of the house,” Curator William Griffith said. “He liked it as he found it. He liked the tallness of the cedars, and the Gothic nature of the garden, and he made up a ghost story to go along with that Gothic nature.”
Thus, the tragic tale of Judith Sheegog was born. According to legend, Judith was the only daughter of the home’s original owner.
“The thing is he never wrote this story down,” Griffith said. “So, I have heard 10 different versions from 10 different people, but the one most people today are familiar with is the one that Dean Faulkner Wells, his niece, wrote down in her book, The Ghosts of Rowan Oak.”
Generally, the story is told that Judith was unluckily in love. One night, she took herself out onto the balcony and fell to her death. Upon finding her broken body just outside the threshold of the front door, her father buried her in a shallow grave under one of the magnolia trees in front of the home.
Griffith, in his 14 years as the curator of Rowan Oak, has never had a supernatural experience in the home.
“I’ve wanted one so badly. I’m out here all hours of the day working and nothing has ever happened,” Griffith said. “However, I don’t tempt fate either. I don’t spend a lot of time out here at night. Come sundown, I like to be out of here.”
Though Griffith claims he’s never experienced any paranormal activity himself, that doesn’t necessarily mean the grounds are phantom free.
In 2001, Rowan Oak closed for a two-year renovation. To remember the original placement of the furniture, Griffith and his staff went room to room and took photographs. What they found in one of pictures surprised them.
“We took a picture of Mrs. Faulkner’s room. Through the window there’s a bench visible, and it looks like someone is standing next to the bench. Then there’s another someone sitting on the bench,” Griffith said. “Behind the bench there’s an arbor and a little white house he called the service quarters. It’s gone. All the way up to the sky, all the way down to the ground, it’s just this big voided black space. It’s a really weird photograph.”
By Lacey Russell, Meek School of Journalism and New Media, firstname.lastname@example.org