For More Details
Natchez Pilgrimage tour office (Stanton Hall and Longwood), 1-800-647-6742
Rosswood Plantation, 1-800-533-5889
Cedar Grove, 1-800-862-1300, or visit online at www.cedargroveinn.com
Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau (1-800-647-6724, www.natchez.ms.us)
Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau (1-800-221-3536, www.vicksburg.org)

Before You Go
To plan your Mississippi trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides. Or, go to our online Auto Travel section.

Ghost trails
At these mansions, ruins and a ghost town, unlock the doors to Mississippi’s haunting antebellum era

By Carolyn Thornton
Published: Sep/Oct 2001

Stark columns are all that is left of what was once the grandest mansion in Mississippi, Windsor. /Carolyn Thornton photo
The closets of Mississippi’s river plantation homes are full of family skeletons. Between Natchez and Vicksburg, visitors can tour haunted mansions, rattle bones at a ghost town or peek into the past at the state’s most famous ruins.

Prior to the Civil War, Natchez had nearly as many millionaires as New York and Philadelphia. To showcase their wealth they built magnificent mansions filled with imported furnishings. Frederick Stanton set out to build the largest and most impressive residence in town. By 1858, his monumental home crowned a hill that occupied a complete city block. Massive rooms flank 16-foot-wide central hallways on two main floors. From the belvedere observatory to the full basement, the mansion has five levels. Unfortunately, Stanton’s sudden death on Jan. 4, 1859 gave him little time to enjoy his dream home. Or does his spirit linger?

The double parlor of Stanton Hall. Visitors have reported hearing voices and seeing apparitions in the home. /Dick Dietrich photo
Visitors to the home, now owned by Natchez’s Pilgrimage Garden Club, have reported the sound of children playing in the hallways, or seeing the ghost of a cocker spaniel, or hearing a strong male voice greeting, “Good morning!”

“Mr. Stanton seems to be the dominant ghost. He tends to appear to people he likes,” said Sylvia Booth Hubbard, author of “Ghosts! Personal Accounts of Modern Mississippi Hauntings.”

Spectral splendor

The most unusual home in Natchez is Longwood, the largest octagonal home in America. Blueprints for the 32-room, 30,000-square-foot home incorporated such a mix of styles that it has been described as Moorish, Byzantine, Rococo, Egyptian, Grecian, Victorian, and Italian. Owner Haller Nutt began work in 1851, ordering tapestries, marble work, and crystal from Europe.

Three years and $100,000 later, the basic structure was completed when the Civil War intervened. The northern artisans and carpenters abandoned their work and returned home. Today, you can walk into the unfinished section where scaffolding blocks the light from the cupola. The workmen’s tools and paint cans stand idle. A piano crate addressed to “Julia Nutt, The Forest, Natchez, Miss.” stands empty on rough-hewn floors in solemn contrast to the furnished basement rooms below.

Haller Nutt died impoverished in 1864. His wife lived in the unfinished home until 1897 when she died there also. Some of the staff have reported seeing Julia in a pink dress on the stairway, hearing children playing near the servants’ quarters, or catching a glimpse of Dr. Nutt wandering the grounds. “Don’t you know Dr. Nutt comes around and wonders what it would look like if he had been able to finish the home?” Hubbard said.

In Lorman, two miles east of Highway 61 on state Route 552E, the Rosswood Plantation home served as a hospital for Union and Confederate soldiers after the Battle of Cotton Bales, also known as the Battle of Coleman’s Plantation, in July 1864. Legend says a Union officer who died there was buried in an unmarked grave. As a result, his spirit lingers. Bed-and-breakfast guests have never seen the ghost, but he sometimes greets them with a cheery hello.

“We call him the friendly ghost,” said Rosswood owner Walt Hylander.

Another ghost was a lady, who was heard by a teenage girl, Annie E. Jacobs, in 1863, after the city of Jackson burned in the Civil War. Jacobs described her ghostly encounter in her journal, which the present owners–Walt and Jean Hylander–have.

Completed in 1857 for $10,857, Rosswood offers clues to the grandeur of what was once Mississippi’s grandest mansion, Windsor. Located west of Port Gibson on Highway 552, Windsor was built two years later by the same architect for $175,000.

Haunting ruins and ghost towns

Windsor narrowly escaped destruction during the Civil War when Ulysses S. Grant’s troops mistakenly fired on the veranda chairs assuming they were Confederate soldiers. But in 1890, the three-story mansion, flanked by 29 columns, was destroyed by fire from a careless houseguest’s cigarette. Only the skeletal brick columns and fragments of ironwork remain of what was Mississippi’s largest plantation home. One of the four iron staircases can be seen at Alcorn State University campus chapel.

From Alcorn, M-558 dead-ends at the ghost town of Rodney. Once a bustling river port considered for the state capital, Rodney had 35 stores, Mississippi’s first opera house, and nearly 5,000 residents. Andrew Jackson was a frequent visitor.achary Taylor lived there when notified of his election to the presidency.

During the Civil War, members of the Union gunboat, Rattler, had been invited to Sunday services at Rodney’s Presbyterian church. While the Federals were inside, Rebels surrounded the building and captured 17 Union prisoners. One person was injured. Most of the congregation had taken shelter, including a youth who hid beneath the hooped skirts of a lady.

Today, a cannonball lodged in the church’s brick facade testifies to the town’s importance before the river changed course, leaving Rodney a ghost town.

Cedar Grove’s curse

In Vicksburg, Cedar Grove mansion is the town’s largest bed-and-breakfast inn. Situated on a high bluff overlooking the river, it was built by John Klein in the 1840s as a wedding gift for his bride, Elizabeth Bartley Day.

During the Union’s initial attempt to take Vicksburg, cannonballs crashed through Cedar Grove’s front door and floor. The front parlor not only bears the scars of that engagement, but a cannonball remains lodged in the parlor wall. Because Elizabeth was related to Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, the home was spared. However, Elizabeth was treated as an outcast by Vicksburg society because of those family ties. When her son, Willie, died from an accidental gunshot, the citizens considered it a curse for naming him after Sherman.

Bed-and-breakfast guests hearing the sound of children playing say it’s the ghost of Willie. Others detect the scent of pipe smoke in John Klein’s red library, even though the inn is a non-smoking property. Others have heard the sounds of a gunshot or glass breaking (a woman who committed suicide in the ballroom).

Perhaps the most whimsical ghost belongs to a former tour guide who always laughed about coming back to Cedar Grove when she died. She has been seen on the front stairs wearing her pilgrimage gown. The dress is stored in the basement.

In her interviews with people who have experienced a ghostly presence, Hubbard found that certain phenomena–blinking lights, the sound of footsteps, moving shadows–were an integral part of the haunting.

“Almost any house that’s worth its salt is haunted,” Hubbard said.

Carolyn Thornton is a contributor from Purvis, Miss.

Also, see: More haunted sites await


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